Monday, September 22, 2014

Skink--No Surrender, by Carl Hiaasen

Lurking in the background of many of Carl Hiaasen's novels, and taking a crucial role in some of them, is Skink.  A hermit, lover of nature, hater of polluters and out-of-control developers, this former governor of Florida, officially believed to be dead, has chosen to live off the grid,  pursuing his own agenda.  In Skink--No Surrender the governor takes a larger role than in previous books.

Richard, the book's teenage narrator, first meets Skink on the beach near his home.  Skink has buried himself in the sand, disguising himself as a turtle nest, with hopes of catching someone who has been collecting turtle eggs.  (Later on Skink gets his man!)  Despite their age difference, and Skink's many quirks and oddities, the two make a connection.  When Richard tells Skink about his cousin Malley's running off with an internet predator, finding and rescuing Malley becomes Skink's new mission.  The mismatched pair set out together in Florida-wide manhunt.

Fans of Hiaasen's fiction will recognize the familiar settings, characters, and attitudes that inhabit his fiction: the hapless criminals, the less-than-intelligent adults, the riffs on endangered species and habitats, the somewhat random but still enjoyable plot connections.  Fans of Hiaasen's stories for younger readers will recognize characteristics Richard shares with earlier Hiaasen protagonists: independent thinking, curiosity, a love of nature.  Skink--No Surrender establishes a sort of middle ground between Hiaasen's novels for adults and his YA novels.  It has a bit more violence and more mature subject matter than the latter and less than the former.

If there's a complaint it would be that even though Hiaasen takes on the sticky subject of internet relationships and the terrible risk kids take when meeting someone online, it doesn't seem to weigh as heavy as it probably should.  So Malley ran off with a guy who turns out to be a criminal, but that's OK, here come her cousin and Skink, in a madcap adventure to the rescue!  In the hilarity, there is real peril, and there are real consequences, but it just seemed to be taken lightly.

Above all is Skink.  His oddball lifestyle (roadkill for dinner, anyone?), complete lack of fashion, grooming, or even bathing, coupled with his elevated sense of justice, his almost superhuman strength and skills (he's a Vietnam vet), and his resourcefulness (aided, of course, by his retired highway patrol buddy), make Skink one of the most oddly memorable and strangely lovable characters you'll come across.  I'm glad to see him get a leading role in this new book, and, as always, glad to see that Hiaasen has more stories to tell!

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

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