by Carl Hiaasen
416 pages, Sphere
Review by Paul Fenton
It's been a long time between novels for Carl Hiassen. His last offering was Nature Girl, back in 2006. I found myself wondering: has he quit? Is he ill? Has he changed his name? Is he on strike? So many of his books are driven by environmental issues, perhaps he was protesting the wastefulness of printing mass-market paperbacks at a time when e-readers are taking over the world.
Then I spotted Star Island on a display in Waterstones. Remaining sensitive to Hiaasen's fictional "Save the Trees, Buy E-books" campaign, I downloaded a copy to my Kindle. Someone go get me a Greenpeace bumper-sticker.
While all the other Carl Hiaasen books I've read have had a Florida-focused environmental theme, Star Island departs from this somewhat by taking a shot at pop stars and celebrity ... while being repeatedly bumped into by a Florida-focused environmental subplot.
Cherry Pye is a young pop star cast in extreme caricature: one part Britney, one part Paris, one part Milli Vanilli, and a liberal sprinkling of a young Robert Downey Jr. She can't sing to save herself, indulges in dangerous and often odd drug binges (ecstasy, laxatives and bird seed anyone?), and she … Well, she’s not exactly saving herself for her wedding day, you know? She's on a path to self-destruction, and while her manager and her parents make token attempts to slow the descent – often by hiring minders who consistently fit with Cherry’s picture of an ideal man (hint: they all have penises) – most of their efforts are focused on keeping the media away from the ugly truth, thereby keeping the gravy train on the tracks. To achieve this, they hire Ann DeLusia.
Ann DeLusia is a young actress who bears a striking resemblance to Cherry Pye. Whenever Cherry is suffering from a bout of "gastritis", Anne is deployed as a decoy to draw the Paparazzi away from the troubled star, or to make them think all is well. One Paparazzo, an unattractive shooter by the name of Claude "Bang" Abbott (think Newman from Seinfeld for a visual) decides Cherry is his best bet for a great shot, a legendary shot, a big-money shot ... as soon as she croaks it. He stalks her, trails her, pays good money for information of her whereabouts, and becomes increasingly obsessed with her. Join up the dots: self-destructive pop star; look-alike decoy; somewhat unstable Paparazzo stalker. You can see where this is going, more or less.
That should have been an ample cast and foundation for the story, but someone – maybe Hiaasen, maybe his publisher, maybe his agent – seems to think a Carl Hiassen novel just isn't right without the Captain.
The Captain, A.K.A. Skink, A.K.A. the Governor, A.K.A. Clinton Tyree, former governor of Florida and current Everglade-dwelling environmental terrorist nut-job. He's present in just about every Carl Hiaasen book I can remember, but in those books he forms a part of the central plot. In Star Island, his mini sub-plot links him up with Ann DeLusia, but he's never more than a background presence. He's like a watermark on the story, verifying it as a true and original Hiaasen. I can easily see how the story might have been written with him completely absent, until he was shoe-horned in later on, when Hiaasen read the fine-print and realised he was contractually required to have the big loon in every novel. I like the Captain, he’s an excellent and extreme character, but I’d rather have him in a lead role; he feels wasted otherwise.
Star Island is entertaining, sure, but not in the same way as Hiaasen’s other novels. It’s a comfortable, funny read, but it’s missing the tension which places his books on the crime shelves in the store. Reading it was a bit like watching Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. You’re sitting in your seat thinking, oh my god, Shia LeBeouf’s character is in real trouble here, and then you realise: So?