An unscrupulous marine biologist with "Ken-doll good looks" and "priapic affability," Chaz Perrone was sure he'd seen the last of his wife when he pushed her over the railing of the Sun Duchess cruise ship off the coast of Florida. But Joey Perrone, a former championship swimmer, survived the fall and clung to a bale of Jamaican hashish long enough to be rescued by retired cop Mick Stranahan. Joey wants to know why her husband wanted her dead (he feared she was on to his scheme of doctoring Florida Everglades water samples at the behest of ruthless tycoon Red Hammernut). Then, with Stranahan's help, she wants to drive him crazy.

From politicians to paparazzi, no reprobate escapes the satirical eye of Miami Herald columnist Carl Hiaasen, who writes like the love child of Hunter S. Thompson and Evelyn Waugh. In Skinny Dip, Hiaasen serves up his trademark cast of skewed characters, including old favorites Skink, a shower cap-sporting curmudgeon and former Florida governor with curious carnivorous tastes, and part-time private investigator Stranahan, whose six failed marriages have left him less than optimistic about love. Among the new arrivals: agribusinessman Red Hammernut, who sports a flap-happy hairpiece more dubious than his M.O., and Tool, a hirsute, painkiller-addicted thug with a bullet lodged in a decidedly cheeky place.

As always, Hiaasen sets the action in steamy South Florida, where the moist air seems to foster morally despicable displays. Like Hiaasen's nine previous novels, Skinny Dip offers a message amid the mayhem: we need to respect our natural resources before it's too late. As the novel draws to a close, Chaz must face the karmic consequences of his crude, polluting ways: "[He] crossed the breeze-swept marsh with a puckering fear that he was being stalked by Red and his shotgun-toting goon; by voracious disease-bearing insects; by needle-fanged cottonmouth moccasins, blood-slurping leeches and deer ticks; by hydrophobic bobcats and in-bred panthers; by the gators whose husky mating calls fractured the brittle silence."

 

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