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Skinny Dip    by Carl Hiaasen order for
Skinny Dip
by Carl Hiaasen
Order:  USA  Can
Knopf, 2004 (2004)
Hardcover, Audio, CD
* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

Skinny Dip is a crisply written crime fiction satire wriiten in the way only Carl Hiaasen can, with an irresistible blend of folly, mirth, and murder. Hiaasen pens the tale of Joey Wheeler and Charles 'Chaz' Regis Perrone, who board the cruise ship Sun Duchess to celebrate their second wedding anniversary. Chaz arranged the cruise as an anniversary gift for his spouse, planning Joey's demise, and he soon pushes her over the rail.

As Chaz tells authorities a story about the disappearance of his wife from their state room, Joey (a champion swimmer) struggles for her life. While trying to understand why Chaz would want her dead, Joey holds on to a 'bulk' in the Atlantic, thinking it a shark she pummeled into unconsciousness (it's actually a sixty-pound bundle of abandoned 'Jamaican grass'.) Mick Stranahan, ex-investigator with the attorney general's office was asked to retire at 39 because he shot a crooked judge who shot at Mick first. Now happily living on an island belonging to an oft-absent writer, Mick rescues Joey. The two devise an undercover blackmail scam and a haunting of Chaz.

Chaz, whose high sexual prowess leads to laughable encounters, is a marine biologist by default. He bought a master's degree from a Colorado diploma mill. Chaz was employed with a government agency overseeing water testing in the Everglades. On the side, Chaz is hired as a 'mole' by Samuel 'Red' Johnson Hammernut, a farm tycoon publicly known for recurring pollution 'atrocities'. One evening, working on records at home, Joey walks by and peers at what Chaz is doing. It is this incident that prompts Chaz to plan Joey's 'accidental' demise, believing she figured out the scam of altered water sample records. (Joey doesn't have a clue of their significance.)

Detective Karl Rolvaag (not a sociable sort, but among the best investigators of difficult crime cases) loves snakes. In fact, he houses two pythons in his condo to the chagrin of neighbors who blame him for the disappearance of small pets. Suspecting that Chaz pushed Joey overboard, Rolvaag investigates the case in Detective Columbo style returning with questions like 'one more thing'. When the case is solved, Rolvaag plans to resign the Florida force and move to Minnesota. This smart detective begins to see clues of what is happening from the sidelines and to realize that the case is likely to solve itself.

Chaz wonders whether he is losing his mind when he arrives home from time-to-time to discover articles of Joey's clothing and cosmetics back in the closet and bathroom. Red Hammernut hires henchman Earl 'Tool' Edward O'Toole as bodyguard for Chaz Perrone. A large man at 6' 3", 280 lbs., Tool collects highway-fatality memorial markers to decorate his property. He also has a problem bullet lodged in the crease of his butt near the spine, put there by a poacher who mistook Tool for a bear. Readers cannot help but take a liking to Tool and also to nursing home patient Maureen. The two develop a heart-warming friendship, and Tool is Maureen's 'knight in shining armor'. Their relationship puts a tear in the eye, a tug at the heart, a smile on the face, and a tender verbal 'ah, gee!'

Each of Hiaasen's characters is unique in personality and purpose, and add humor to the story, as when one character questions, 'the seagulls piping excitedly overhead - can't a person ever die in peace?', and another adds 'when goats learn to fly.' I highly recommend Skinny Dip as a leisurely-paced read to place on your nightstand, or near your favorite chair.

Note: Underlying the humor are serious topics. Here are some of the author's words on ongoing environmental protection efforts in the Everglades: 'the fertilizers pouring by the ton from the sugarcane fields and vegetable farms ... do not produce stinking tides of dead fish ... or rotting animal corpses. Instead, the phosphates and other agricultural contaminants work invisibly to destroy a mat of algae known as periphyton ... periphyton begins to die, the small fish that feed and nest there move away. ... Soon the saw grass prairies wither and starve, replaced by waves of cattails and other aquatic plants that thrive on the torrent of phosphorus, yet provide miserable habitat for native birds and wildlife. A primary objective of the government's Everglades restoration project was to reduce the steady deluge of man-made fertilizers.'

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