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Book Review 

by Ted S. McGregor Jr.

What would you do if your husband tried to kill you? Call the cops? Offer your exclusive to the National Enquirer? In Carl Hiaasen's south Florida, the answer is that you get sweet revenge. On her second anniversary cruise, Joey Perrone gets tossed overboard by her husband, Chaz, who figures the sharks will get her as she struggles to swim for shore. Naturally she survives the ordeal and is plucked from the waters by Mick Stranahan, a former state investigator who has retired to his own private island. Together they figure out why Chaz did it; then they plot to terrorize him.

This is Hiaasen's 11th novel, and he's Floridian through and through. His book meditates on juxtapositions that make his home state a strange and glorious place; the wild and dangerous Everglades, for example, are separated from sprawling row houses only by a thin levee. His heroes are the ones who try to live outside the madness of urban Florida; the villains are the ones who made it such a big mess in the first place.

Hiaasen's a really funny writer, and there are some memorable characters here, especially Tool, the goon hired to babysit Chaz so he doesn't spill his secret while the police investigate his wife's apparent suicide. Tool collects roadside memorial crosses to decorate his yard, and he's hooked on painkiller patches, which he procures by visiting nursing homes and stealing them from the backs of patients. You'll laugh out loud whenever Tool enters a scene.

Chaz intended to bump off his wife because he mistakenly decided she was onto his little game at work. He collects water samples from the Everglades, and an upstream farmer (the guy who hired Tool) likes those samples to come out nice and clean. Field hydrology is a bit of a stretch for pop fiction, but it works here as a commentary on the need to protect the Everglades. If you mess with the Everglades -- or Joey Perrone, it turns out -- you've got it coming.

Needless to say, Joey and Mick drive Chaz nuts by breaking into his house and putting him through increasingly grueling abuse. Oh, and they become lovers, too. But what starts out as some lighthearted vigilantism becomes more and more sadistic. Sure, Chaz deserves it, but when is enough enough? Wisely, Hiaasen allows final judgment to be passed not by Joey, but by the Everglades itself. Mother Nature, it turns out, can hold a hell of a grudge.

Publication date: 08/19/04

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