A Messy Romp Through the Everglades – Carl Hiaasen’s Skinny Dip

Skinny Dip

Another wild ride from Carl Hiaasen, Skinny Dip is a revenge story about an inept murderer, a retired investigator living alone on a private island and an ex-athlete looking for answers. It starts with Chaz Peronne, a crooked environmental scientist, throwing his wife Joey off a cruise ship. The thing is: Chaz isn’t a bright guy. He’s forgotten Joey used to swim in college and either forgotten or remains ignorant of the way ocean currents drift. Soon his wife washes up on ex-cop Mick Stranahan’s beach. And together, they go out for revenge.

Like most of Hiaasen’s novels, it’s a darkly funny crime story with more than a little focus on the destruction of the environment, in this case the destruction of the Everglades. And like most of his books, it’s packed with strange and memorable characters: Mick, an ex-cop haunted by failed marriages and his former lines of work; Red, a greed-driven farm maven with no morals; Tool, a dimwitted hitman who collects roadside crosses, the kind left at automobile accidents. And at the centre of this is Chaz, a slimy toad of a man driven by two lusts: one for money, the other for women.

The bulk of this book’s enjoyment comes at the myriad ways Joey and Mick blackmail and torture him, driving him off the deep end. There’s less mystery here than in Hiaasen’s other books and you’re lefting wondering how far everyone can go before something breaks. And he goes to comical lengths: everything from crank calls to a phoney funeral. And as Red goes to even further lengths to make sure Chaz doesn’t squeal, things get more and more chaotic.

But there’s a weary sense to this book, a kind of resignation that the environmental destruction and blackmailing are something out of their control. For a central character, Mick is maddeningly out of reach and we never get a sense of his personal side (as opposed to Chaz, who we know in detail). Red is little more than a greedy farmer and there’s barely anything more to him than boardrooms and prophet margins. Even later, when the iconic Skink shows up, he seems a shell of the wild force he was in Sick Puppy (previously reviewed here): he’s barely hanging on, staggering through the remains of the forest. While Skinny Dip is an enjoyable book, I kept thinking of Chandler’s later fiction, written when he was tiring of the genre. I wonder if Hiaasen was feeling drained when he was working on this. The ending doesn’t pack the same punch as his other books.

My rating: 7/10. On the whole, though, that’s a minor gripe. It’s a blisteringly fast read (I tore through it in a couple of days) and a wild ride through Florida’s seedy underbelly. Recommended, especially for crime fiction fans.




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