Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Skin Tight, by Carl Hiaasen [2]

**/***** (2/5)

Imagine the following cast of characters. A big, late-thirties ex- State Attorney investigator divorced five times. An abjectly rich, miserly cheap and terribly incompetent plastic surgeon. A clumsy, equally-incompetent vainglorious TV reporter. The cerebral, street-smart TV producer. A bitter nurse with a secret down on men. And finally last, but certainly not the least, a 6-foot-9 bouncer sporting a facially-burnt Rice Krispie effect. Throw in a 5 year-old unsolved missing-person case suddenly resurfaced, and what's the end-result? Why, Carl Hiaasen's whacky and twisted SKIN TIGHT in this 420-page superior paperback, of course! Hiaasen sticks to his strengths: convoluted plotting, offbeat, humorous dialogue and discreetly gray characterizations. I found the pacing fairly anemic however, as I finished three other books while reading this one which is ironic since the prose lends itself to a fast, easy read. SKIN TIGHT never really grips. Settings obviously played backseat to the twisted plotting. There's a couple love subplots thrown in as well: the ex-investigator falls for the TV producer while the surgeon actually loves a TV actress in both of their own uniquely disturbing ways. Admittedly, I'm probably jaded and numbed by modern culture, but I found the book's insouciant approach to death and violence refreshing after so many sensitive romance novels.

[Stranahan] was not a paranoid person, but took a practical view of risk: when someone pulls a gun at your front door, there's really no point to asking what he wants. The answer is obvious, and so is the solution.

The title of this book I believe refers to plastic surgery, and our doctor's fumbling attempts to cover up a botched surgery. Our main character Mick Stranahan investigated a missing-persons case for the State Attorney's office when he still worked there years ago. Now assassins show up at his stilt house out on the tidal flats of Biscayne Bay, a mile from the tip of Cape Florida. Mick is a no-nonsense, smart, tough character having experienced it all, and harbors a healthy cynicism towards government and the rich. Hiaasen's twisted Florida world teems with corruption and duplicity at all levels of the government and the affluently prosperous. Many times, SKIN TIGHT seemed to speak to and about the fraudulent corruption we find in today's society. Mick wants nothing more than to be left alone in his quiet home off the bay, but unfortunately, the depraved, outside world comes a-knockin'. Mick can take care of himself though, boy can he ever.

Tina clutched his hand. She couldn't take her eyes off the fire. "Mick, have you got enemies like that?"

"Hell, I've got friends like that."

I like that many of the characters here aren't cut and dry. Only in Carl Hiaasen's story can we begin to actually empathize with a cheap, incompetently corrupt doctor who blithely hires assassins to eliminate threats, bribes city officials for his own divinations and yet at the end discovers love with a TV actress in his own twisted way. Only here, can we begin to understand a grotesquely murdering 7-foot bouncer. I also liked Mick dictating the majority of circumstances and situations after he fends off an early assassin. Our 7-foot bouncer Chemo proves a much larger obstacle to Mick however. Still, it was nice to see Mick in control of the bizarre circumstances he didn't set in motion.

Chemo got the impression that he was losing control, which made no sense, since he was the one with the pistol.

The wacky plotting mostly features Mick fending off Chemo while striking back at the root cause of the entire affair (the botched surgery and consequent cover-up), Chemo willing to do anything for costly dermabrasion treatments for his burnt face, and Dr. Rudy Graveline providing Chemo the means and motive to kill Mick. Mick and the TV producer Christina Marks share an adventure through all this.

SKIN TIGHT isn't bad, and I liked the twisted plotting and characters. But I thought the book failed to really capture and retain interest. It wasn't outright funny, and its strength lies with a mishmash cast of gray yet colorful characters. I may check out another Hiaasen book down the line.

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