No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Friday, March 25, 2016

2016/22: Scat -- Carl Hiaasen

Jimmy Lee Bayliss chose not to admit that a lunatic with a rabid parrot had tried to remove his lips with a pair of pliers.[loc. 2646]

Eco-thriller set in Florida, targetted at the YA market: a quicker and more straightforward read than Hiaasen's novels for adults, but the crazy is still there.

Nick and his best friend Marta are in Mrs Starch's biology class. So is Duane, the class problem, who has a history of arson and who would, he says, prefer to be known as 'Smoke'. Nobody is impressed when Mrs Starch makes fun of Smoke during class: she's overstepped the mark.

A field trip to the Black Vine Swamp is interrupted by a wildfire: Mrs Starch heads back into the swamp to find a pupil's inhaler, and does not emerge. The next day, a letter arrives at the school, ostensibly from Mrs Starch: she requests leave of absence for 'a family emergency'. But she has no family ...

Nick's captured a few minutes of video, just before the fire: he'd hoped that the moving shape he glimpsed might be a Florida panther, but it turns out to be a human figure. Could it be the person who started the fire? And is Mrs Starch's disappearance part of a larger conspiracy? Nick could do with some distraction from his worries about his father, a soldier who's been badly injured in Iraq. (And he still yearns to see a panther.)Together, he and Marta investigate, finding unexpected allies and dangerous foes.

Scat has nearly all the classic Hiaasen ingredients: corrupt big business, eccentricity galore (worth noting that the eccentrics are usually more decent than the businessmen), disregard for the ecosystem, the commercialisation of modern America. (All that's 'missing' in terms of Hiaasen's usual -- and I didn't especially miss it -- is the tawdry sex and most of the violence.) It's also hilarious, touching, thrilling and well-paced. Great read, and I know more about the Everglade ecology than I did.

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