OK, so the holy pizza stone appeared in Texas not Florida, but aside from that the loopy story has all the makings of a classic Carl Hiaasen tale.
In fact, it is the sub-plot for one of Hiaasen's classic early novels, Lucky You, which is set in a town famous for Jesus' face appearing in a roadkill stain. This is life imitating art imitating life. Remember the Jesus' face in a cheese sandwich? That was Florida.
So this was a timely reminder that while Hiaasen's stories and characters may sometime seem fantastical, they are usually based on real people living (sur)real lives.
Nature Girl, Hiaasen's 11th novel for adults (he has also written two terrific tales for kids), actually tones down some of the usual cast loopiness. Nonetheless we do have: a woman (Nature Girl herself, Honey Santana) who hears two different songs in her head at the same time and has a propensity for doing crazy things and her former-drug-running ex-husband; a half-Seminole native American fleeing the accidental death of a tourist on his boat; a whacked out FSU coed looking for a rush; a sex-crazed fishmonger with a jones for Honey Santana; a bored, crap telemarketer, his bored statuesque mistress, his bored pizza heiress, voyeur wife and her private dick. Oh, and a religious cult that believes Jesus will arrive for the second coming by boat and an 11-year-old kid (Honey's son) who sticks out like a sore thumb for his common sense, sane approach to life and his sensitivity.
Aside from the voyeur wife, this collection of whackos and freaks find themselves on Dismal Key and other islands off the coast of Florida close to Everglades City when Honey tricks Boyd Shreave, the telemarketer, into taking a free eco-trip to the sunshine State to teach him a lesson about rudeness after he interrupts her dinner to sell her real state and winds up calling her a "skank".
It's pretty thin stuff for a plot, but Hiaasen sets the story up very nicely and does a terrific job of getting his characters out into the complex of ten thousand coastal islands where they play out their drama on Dismal Key.
Many of the familiar Hiaasen themes are in there too, including the dismay at the wanton destruction of one of the world's most precious and unusual ecosystems and the bullying, harrying nature of big business and its lack of respect for workers and consumers.
But for some reason the trick doesn't come off as well in this novel as it has in some previous ones. Perhaps it's the unusual lack of anger and bite in the story. Hiaasen pokes plenty of fun at these characters, but he is at his funniest when he has a target he really loathes and when his satire bites with the sort of pressure usually only applied by great white sharks.
Some of that passion is lacking here and the story suffers as a result. It is funny throughout, but not as raucously so as some of his others. And the chase around Dismal Key that ensues as proceedings draw to a close is a little too much, and slightly feels as if Hiaasen has lost control of the plot.
Long-time fans will find something to like here - it's stil Hiaasen after all - and I enjoyed the book a great deal. But has done better before, and will likely do so again.