Litterbugs, Psychopaths and Barbies: Carl Hiaasen’s Sick Puppy

Sick Puppy

There’s a guy on Twitter who runs one of my favorite accounts: Florida Man. It’s something of a gimmick account, but it’s genius in it’s simplicity. All he does is post links to news stories out of Florida, the crazy news stories, the kind of news which seems to only come out of Florida. A recent example: Florida Man Punches Police Horse. So, when I finished reading Carl Hiaasen’s Sick Puppy, I wasn’t really sure how much of this was actually fiction. Hiaasen, after all, was an investigative reporter once upon a time. I’m sure he’s come up across something like this before. 

Put simply, Sick Puppy is a crazy story about some crazy people in the state known for it’s crazies. It starts starts off with Palmer Stoat, a low-profile, high-in-demand political fixer shooting a half-dead rhino in a backlot estate in Florida and finding out it’s horn is fake and, folks it only gets weirder and weirder from there. Before long there’s a developer with a Barbie fetish, a rogue environmentalist with anger issues, a hitman who listens to 911 calls in his car and a giant, adorable black lab named after  the guitar player from The Byrds. Oh, and there’s Skink, the bald, one-eyed, half-crazy former Governor who lives in the jungle and is one of the more seminal people in modern American fiction. And Skink’s one of the saner ones.

Plotwise, it’s the story about Palmer getting involved in a plan to develop a small, unspoiled island in Florida. The plan is to raze everything and stack the island with condos, beaches and a golf course. He’s tailed by Twilly Spree, an ecoterrorist with a trust fund, who goes out of his way to keep this island pristine. Soon, Stoat’s dog and wife are kidnapped, Russian models are hooked on powdered rhino horn and several psychopaths are roaming the island.

Basically, Sick Puppy is a novel about the lengths some people will go to protect nature and the lengths people will go to develop land. It’s about the two contrasting forces – conservation and construction – and just how far out there these people will get at the extremes. Everyone is a little selfish, because they either want to make a ton of money or because they’ve appointed themselves a guardian of nature. And almost everyone lacks any kind of a conscience: even the sympathetic figure of Spree doesn’t have any moral problems with committing serious acts of crime.

And there’s a lot of crime going on here, especially as the novel gets dark: more people get killed then in the average Chandler novel. But Hiaasen’s sense of humor is never far from the surface. It’s funny, with a sense of irony for how insane everything is, even as you’re reading about political bribery, murders and kidnapping. He’s got a real gift for masking outrage over the environment and corruption of government in a cloak of the absurd. It’s a great piece of fiction from Hiaasen, almost a murder mystery in disguise, but also a nice political satire.

Rating: 7/10. It’s a wild, fun read with some interesting subtext about land development, corrupt governments and the ruination of Florida’s wildlife. Recommended, especially for crime fiction fans. I’d argue it’s a great starting point if you’re new to Hiaasen’s fiction, too.




%d bloggers like this: