Strip Tease, Carl Hiaasen

Warner, 1993 (1996 reprint), 418 pages, C$8.50 mmpb, ISBN 0-446-60066-0

Submitted for your consideration: the strange idea that some good authors are worth reviewing once but not twice.

It’s a concept that touches upon the traditional definition of a hack: a professional writer who can be counted upon to deliver what’s expected. Less-kind definitions of “hack” focus on the mercenary intent of the writer as if it necessarily necessarily excluded any quality from the resulting work —but genre readers know better than that. Some professionals quickly learn that good formulas work consistently, leading to writers-as-brand names like Clive Cussler. The experience of reading their books remains consistent from one to the other: if it’s a thrill to read the first one and determine what makes it different from the rest of genre fiction, there’s little to say afterwards, especially in series where real change is kept to a minimum. (Cussler’s last few novels have been worth a review in part because he has started tinkering with his usual approach.) I find myself unable to review Robert B. Parke’s Spenser novels, for instance, even if I absolutely love them: they deliver exactly the same experience all the time: There’s little left to say except “Wonderful, another success in a long series.” In my just-finished quest to review all of Michael Connelly’s fiction at a pace of one novel per month, I often ran out of things to say beyond repeating Connelly’s strengths and seeing how the novels linked to previous books.

Which generally brings us to Carl Hiaasen’s particular brand of comic crime fiction in that I have never been disappointed by his books, but it’s hard to find anything distinctive to say once a first review has been written. His madcap novels of silly South Florida crimes each feature entirely different plots, generally new characters and strange new Floridian sub-cultures, but they all share a similar feel. All can boast of a large cast of characters, criss-crossing plotting, limpid writing and a light atmosphere nonetheless leading to tense moments. Hiaasen has found a winning formula, and there’s little reason for him to deviate from it. That makes him an utterly dependable authors, and one who deserves a massive monthly back-catalog reading project. Alas, it also makes it almost impossible to review Hiaasen on a monthly basis: There’s a limit to how much space a plot summary can take when the critical content of the review remains the same.

If I make an exception for Strip Tease, it’s that I haven’t reviewed Hiaasen in years, and I wanted to flag down why that was so. Furthermore, Strip Tease remains to this day the only one of Hiaasen’s non-juvenile crime novels to have been adapted to big screen. I never saw the 1996 film STRIPTEASE, but I can still remember the public titillation at the idea of then-hot Demi Moore playing the lead exotic dancer. Never mind that the movie was a critical flop and a commercial under-achiever: It’s probably still the only Hiaasen title that the vast public can recognize. (“Hey, look, there’s Demi Moore’s on the cover!”) I suppose that there’s something to be written about how Hiaasen’s fine-tuned style doesn’t lend itself to a flat film adaptation, but that will wait until I get to see the film.

As for the book itself, well, it’s all you’d expect from a Hiaasen novel: Decent characters (including a single mom strip-teasing to support herself and her daughter) faced against antagonists both evil and stupid, complex plotting, wonderful prose style, tongue-in-cheek commentary on the less glamorous side of Florida life, moments of well-executed tension, progressive politics and an epilogue that wraps up everything. No disappointment here: Just a good solid dark comedy. Read one Hiaasen, and that will be enough to tell you if you are likely to love the other ones. (You can even read them out of order.)

So don’t mind me as I spend the next few months reading through the entirety of Hiaasen’s work to date. Just don’t be surprised if I somehow don’t manage to review every single one of those books. Or if I end up discussing other things than the book when I do.

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