Carl Hiaasen Essay - Critical Essays


As an investigative reporter for the Miami Herald, Carl Hiaasen focused on the corruption in the business world and in politics that negatively affected the Florida environment. The issues and the people that served as fodder for his columns are fictionalized in his novels, forming the basis for outlandish characters and situations. The novels that Hiaasen coauthored with fellow journalist William B. Montalbano are conventional works of detective and action fiction encompassing such subjects as the cocaine trade, smuggling, and murder on foreign soil. These novels do not have the characteristics that make Hiaasen’s later work noteworthy. Hiaasen introduced his distinctive style and themes in his first solo novel, Tourist Season. Claiming that Florida produces stories and people as bizarre as those in his novels, Hiaasen created a distinctive genre of comedy mysteries, also described as environmental thrillers, which hold a world of outsized ecology-destroying crooks and promoters, greedy businessmen, corrupt politicians, obtuse tourists, confused retirees, hard-luck rednecks, and crazed ecoteurs. The writer views this world with a sardonic eye and a wildly absurdist wit that stings any who by thought or deed threaten the environment in south Florida or who in any way deceive their fellow citizens.

Hiaasen protagonists who stand against crooked schemers include journalists who have become amateur detectives, former state investigators turned fishermen, a private investigator, and occasionally a woman. Usually central characters, after dealing with absurdly outlandish complications, are successful in preventing bad guys from achieving their unlawful, often antienvironmental ends, and they frequently contribute to such villains meeting an outrageously funny demise, such as a hit man impaled on a stuffed swordfish.

Tourist Season

Hiaasen’s first solo novel, Tourist Season, allowed him to give full rein to his offbeat humor and imagination. A group of fanatic but inept activists want to rid Florida of all perceived problems by terrorizing its tourists and developers. Tourists are kidnapped, thrown into a pool, and awarded freedom if they can swim across it without being eaten by the resident alligator—but none make it. A local politician’s body is discovered in a suitcase with a toy alligator in his throat, and an Orange Bowl Queen is kidnapped during a game by one of the terrorists who is a former Miami Dolphins football star. The leader of the militant environmentalists is Skip Wiley, a former columnist for the Miami Herald whose lawless, militant measures probably represent many of Hiaasen’s own fantasies. Protagonist Brian Keyes, a reporter turned private investigator, eventually solves the mystery, saves the Orange Bowl Queen, and confronts the ecoterrorist leader before the latter is blown up on an island rezoned for dynamiting. The last act of the wounded leader before the island explodes is to climb a tree to put a nested eagle to flight.

Double Whammy

The comic mystery Double Whammy combines Florida landscape overdevelopment with a story of rigged big-money bass-fishing tournaments. Protagonist R. J. Decker, a news photographer turned private detective, is hired to investigate wrongdoing on the bass-fishing circuit. Decker enlists the...

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