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Book review: <i>Native Toungue</i> by Carl Hiaasen

the cover of the book

When you're trying to compete with Florida Disney for your place in the developers market, everything's fair. Right? Even the invention of an endangered species?

The story

Joe Winder, ex-journalist public relations guy with a conscience and very little self respect, finds himself working at the Amazing Kingdom, after an unfortunate incident at Disney. In fact, a lot of people who are rejected by Disney end up in the employee of Francis X Kingsbury, owner of the highly inferior Amazing Kingdom. Although he himself has a secret past...

Determined to outdo Disney's ploy to protect animal species, Kingsbury obtains the two last Mango Voles in Florida, for the sake of protection and publicity. But when they are stolen and their wellbeing is flagrantly disregarded by two disreputable burglars, all hell breaks loose. A wildlife preservation group claims responsibility, and Kingsbury resolves to sort it out once and for all with the assistance of his highly unpredictable and steroid addled security guy, Pedro Luz.

But with two burglars converting to wildlife preservationists and extortionists, an old woman with a penchant for firearms, a Florida developer with a mob hit on his head, an ex Florida governor running wild in the hammocks, a dead wildlife specialist, a dead whale, a sexually frustrated dolphin, and of course, Joe Winder cracking up and stuck between two gorgeous girls, it was only a matter of time before the whole thing exploded.

The style

This is the fourth Carl Hiaasen novel I have read in the last month - there was a profusion of them at the second hand bookstore - and frankly, I'm noticing a trend in his work. He's big on the environmental issues; to wit, the preservation of the Florida Everglades from multinationals, big corporations, and fat millionaires. He favours the slightly crazed underdog for this laudable task - often a journalist of some description. And the girls look hot. And they all wear panties. I make this observation not because I feel it is in some way wrong for girls in general to wear panties, in fact, I'm all for it. However, the actual word "panties" gets bandied around quite a bit. That's okay, I don't mind, it's just an observation. There is also usually a completely off the trolley environmentalist, and some random thugs. Sometimes even a feisty old lady who converts one of the thugs into a better person. It's entertaining, but fairly formulaic if read in quick succession. Ooops.

Native Tongue had it's entertaining quirky bits, to be sure. The characters were certainly interesting, well fleshed out, and just over the top enough to be fun but not so over the top it got stupid. Okay, some bits got stupid, but in a funny way. Carl Hiassen has a real quality in his writing style that enables him to indicate each character's faults in a manner that still allows them to be lovable in the case of the heroes, and human in the case of the villains. Joe Winder was a convincing man on the edge, his sex-line-worker girlfriend was hilarious, and the crooks all had a certain I-don't-know-what that kept me reading, for the most part.

The perspective was third person limited from various points of view, and humour was dry - just how I like it. The environmental message was strong, and the twists and turns of the storyline turned it out to be a hilarious romp through a second-rate Florida amusement park. All very entertaining, particularly for those of us who haven't read four Carl Hiaasens in a row.

So there you have it.

Who is this book for?

Carl Hiaasen fans - see the qualifier above. This is fine, light holiday reading that you can come out of feeling self-righteous about environmental protection and a sense that there is justice in the world in the shape of crazed ex-governor environmentalists and crackpot PR writers. So anyone who wants a laugh with serious undertones and a bit of a message thrown in, this one's for you.

If you like this book, you would also like...

I personally preferred Skinny Dip, either because I read it earlier or because the storyline is more compelling. So I'd go with that one. I also enjoyed Hoot, for younger readers. And, if you love the environmental message mixed with dry wit, try a bit of classic Ben Elton - Stark, This Other Eden or Gridlock are all fine choices.

In short

Title: Native Tongue
Author: Carl Hiaasen
Publisher: Warner Books
ISBN: 044669570X
Year published: 1991
Pages: 481
Genre(s): Fiction
Review Type: