I am probably one of the few people who went from Tim Dorsey to Carl Hiaasen, which is akin to preferring Jimmy Buffett to the Grateful Dead. I’ve feasted merrily upon the sheer insanity of Dorsey Serge-pocalypse up and down America’s Wang, and it’s easy to understand now that without Hiaasen, there would be no Dorsey, so I’m sort of tracing the Floridian mania back up the proverbial family tree. And while my gut reaction is that Hiaasen reads like Dorsey after a few Heinekens, they’re just Mounds and Almond Joy in the great literary canon. Sometimes you feel like a nut, and sometimes you don’t.
My concern with Hiaasen has always been where to start, since it felt like there was no real logical jumping in point, and I didn’t know if there was any sort of overlap between books as with the Dorsey. However, I closed my eyes, prayed against barracuda and dove in.
Tourist Season tells about a group calling themselves The Nights of December, though in Spanish, it sounds more like Nachos. They’re a counterrevolutionary terrorist group hellbent on kidnapping and murdering the tourist trade in Florida so that the land can be returned to the glades and Seminoles as God intended. The head of the Chamber of Commerce is found murdered with a rubber alligator stuffed down his throat, and both his legs sawed off to fit him in a suitcase. Mayhem and hilarity ensue.
Again, it’s another madcap cast of characters, including a former reporter turned private eye, a maniac newspaper columnist, a reluctant beauty queen, a siren yoga instructor, and a beleaguered cop. Oh, yeah, and a militant black ex-football star and a failed Cuban revolutionary bombmaker. Plenty of zany antics to keep you amused at the beach or airport where this is apropos reading.
My only beef with Hiaasen, and I don’t know if this will be true of the rest of his works, but it feels like he’s relying heavily on his former journalism career for inspiration. Also, he’s unusually racist. Not him, per se, but the characters are often rattling off in sudden ethnic slurs. I mean, it calls out to the forgotten redneck heritage of Florida, which despite people’s insistence to the contrary, is assuredly part of the South. Then again, there are plenty of militias and hate groups in Pennsylvania, so let’s not throw stones in the hothouse.
I’m compelled to compare him to Dorsey, if only because they are truly two similar flavors of Dorito. Dorsey relies solely on his narrative crash-banging from wackiness to wackiness to be anything resembling a cohesive narrative, whereas Hiaasen feels like he takes himself too seriously. There are great stretches of semi-serious social commentary, pushing ecological issues and conservationism. It feels like a slightly more sitcom-safe version, but it also makes for a more coherent story. Also, Dorsey’s basically got Serge and Coleman. I’ve got to read more Hiaasen to see what tricks he’s got up his sleeves, but it feels to me like he’s just cracking his knuckles and getting ready to throw down. I’m curious as to which one I should read next.