When Palmer Stoat notices the black pickup truck following him on the highway, he fears his precious Range Rover is about to be carjacked. But Twilly Spree, the man tailing Stoat, has vengeance, not sport-utility vehicles, on his mind. Idealistic, independently wealthy and pathologically short-tempered, Twilly has dedicated himself to saving Florida’s wilderness from runaway destruction. He favors unambiguous political statements — such as torching Jet-Skis or blowing up banks — that leave his human targets shaken but re-educated.
After watching Stoat blithely dump a trail of fast-food litter out the window, Twilly decides to teach him a lesson. Thus, Stoat’s prized Range Rover becomes home to a horde of hungry dung beetles. Which could have been the end to it had Twilly not discovered that Stoat is one of Florida’s cockiest and most powerful political fixers, whose latest project is the “malling” of a pristine Gulf Coast island. Now the real Hiaasen-variety fun begins . . .
Dognapping eco-terrorists, bogus big-time hunters, a Republicans-only hooker, an infamous ex-governor who’s gone back to nature, thousands of singing toads and a Labrador retriever greater than the sum of his Labrador parts — these are only some of the denizens of Carl Hiaasen’s outrageously funny new novel.
Brilliantly twisted entertainment wrapped around a powerful ecological plea, Sick Puppy gleefully lives up to its title and gives us Hiaasen at his riotous and muckraking best.
Carl Hiaasen’s characters ride and flail on little verbal hurricanes, and his literary storm shows no signs of dying down. Sick Puppy shares Dave Barry‘s giddy gift for finding humor in South Florida horrors, and a bit of Elmore Leonard’s genius for pitch-perfect dialogue spouted smartly by criminals who are dumb as stumps. The title of Hiaasen’s eighth novel could apply to most of its characters, but it chiefly refers to an ebullient Labrador retriever named Boodle and the millionaire eco-terrorist Twilly Spree. Let’s just say that Twilly has a singular affliction: poor anger management in the face of environmental irresponsibility. When he spots Boodle’s owner, Palmer Stoat, tossing litter from a car, Twilly goes to Stoat’s home and removes the glass eyeballs from the animals that the bloated lobbyist had shot and mounted on his walls. Boodle gulps down the eyeballs, sustaining no small amount of digestive difficulties.
Soon Boodle and Stoat’s wife, Desie, are fugitives from Florida’s nature despoilers (who include the Governor, a “gladhanding maggot,” the amusingly slimy Stoat, the human bulldozer Krimmler, the cocaine-importer-turned-developer Clapley, and the hit man Mr. Gash, who’s fond of sex with multiple beach bimbos in iguana-skin sex harnesses to the tunes of The World’s Most Blood Curdling Emergency Calls). Desie, who has a knack for calamitous romance, is smitten with Twilly, but urges him not to kill any litterbugs or pelican molesters: “Jail would not be good for this relationship.” What keeps pure farce at bay in a novel that romps with the abandon of a scent-crazed Labrador is the otherwise charming Twilly’s creepy edge of implacable fanaticism. And what redeems the funny/ugly violence from cliché is its colorful bad guys (they’re as iridescent as oil slicks), Hiaasen’s excellent wit, and the music of his prose. To evoke a drunk asleep on the beach, he adds a pungent detail: “a gleaming stellate dollop of seagull shit decorated his forehead.”
Hiaasen is not unflawed. His original eco-terrorist character, ex-Florida governor Clinton “Skink” Tyree, seems like an interloper from the earlier books. But Hiaasen’s the master of madcap ensembles (which is partly why the star-vehicle film of his fine book Strip Tease flopped). And even when you can see a chase scene’s denouement coming for a beachfront mile, each paragraph packs descriptive delights to keep you going at breakneck pace. –Tim Appelo