Sunday 12 December 2010

Carl Hiaasen: Double Whammy

largemouth bass: carl hiaasen double whammy Largemouth bass fishing. That should turn you off this review of Carl Hiaasen's second novel. Has JR Hartley written a thriller?


Actually, not preposterous -- bass fishing is a huge sport in the USA and competition fishing (gawd help us, says he as a non-fisherman) is big business, big enough to bring in the cheats, the crooks and the murderers. Sharks, you might call them if you wanted a fishy motif.

Author's Page: Carl Hiaasen

R.J. Decker is a private investigator; he was a photographer until he went to prison for beating up a high school football star trying to steal his cameras (this is Florida, remember). Millionaire fisherman Dennis Gault hires him to catch a rival cheating in competition, neglecting to mention that his predecessor, expert bass fisherman Bobby Clinch, came to an untimely end. Coroner's vedict was accidental drowning but the coroner doesn't like dead bodies so he didn't look too closely.

widemouth bass carl hiaasen double whammy
Largemouth bass, looking like George Osborne forced to travel north of Hendon

So Decker travels off to good ol' boy country to see what's going on. He meets Gaults's sexy sister at Clinch's funeral: "Then she walked away. R. J. Decker found himself concentrating on the way she moved. It was a dazzlingly lascivious walk, with a sway of the hips that suggested maybe a little booze for breakfast." Don't worry, she'll be back.

More importantly for Decker, the story and the reader, he meets Hiaasen's greatest character, introduced to us as Skink. Former Governor of Florida, the first and possibly the last honest man to hold that office, Clinton Tyree headed for the wilds years before. Now he lives off nature and roadkill, entertains himself by reading (good man) and shooting at motorbikes and planes that annoy him and he broods, very darkly. Large, physically powerful, ex-army hero, intelligent, wild, rigid in his beliefs to the edge of insanity - he crops up in several of Hiaasen's novels, growing ever wilder and more appealing to those of us who like to see our villains getting their arses kicked.

Allied with the Governor is Jim Tile, also to be a recurring character: a State Trooper despite his black skin: When he joined up "the usual fate of black troopers was to be assigned to the lousiest roads in the reddest counties. This way they could spend most of their days writing tickets to foulmouthed Klansmen farmers."  He's hard. Very hard. But fair.

The main baddie is a millionaire preacher with a taste for 19 year old females (sometimes two at a time -- Praise The Lord). Reverend Weeb is building a huge estate of dreadful houses, "our very own Christian city", aimed at people who believe real estate brochures. This awful developnment is named Lunker Lakes (lunker = largemouth bass around 10lbs or more). The lakes are actually canals and the lunkers don't exist -- so the randy rev requires publicity from a major fishing tournament. And he needs tame fisherman Dickie Lockhart to win it. Until Dickie is found floating in a fish tank with a Double Whammy fishing lure in his lip.

Back to our heroes, Decker and Skink: they're wandering around looking for fishing cheats, having run-ins with murderous rednecks and now being chased by one Thomas Curl - a gloriously nasty charcter who ends up with the decaying head of a pitbull irretrievably clamped to his arm. (Curl and the head become quite friendly with each other eventually and Curl feeds him raw hamburger.) He makes a detour to kidnap Decker's ex, keeping the pot bubbling nicely.

So the scene is set for the climactic fishing tournament: and this is one to have you sniggering on the bus on the way to work -- always good for getting extra room. Into a tournament as mixed race as a Klan meeting in Alabama step Jim Tile and Hispanic detective Al Garcia, boat number 50 and legally entered. Not good news for the Outdoor Christian Network's broadcast and sales pitch for Lunker Lakes.

No more, lest I spoil the ending. Suffice it to say that the pace doesn't slacken and most of the villains get their just desserts, albeit with a bit of a sting in the tail.

Well written, well paced, very funny, this is highly recommended:

For those who don't know who JR Hartley was, or just want to see how we found things in 1983 before t'interweb:


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