Sunday, May 24, 2009

Tourist Season by Carl Hiaasen - Review

Several years ago on a trip to Nova Scotia we saw a bumper sticker on a pickup truck. It read, “If this is tourist season, why can’t we shoot one?” This one liner is, perhaps, the source for Carl Hiaasen’s first novel, Tourist Season, published in 1986 and containing all the germs of his series of novels set in south Florida. Perhaps the greatest flaw in this book is that since 9/11 it simply isn’t as funny as it once was. Even a gang of terrorists who can’t get anything right is still a gang of terrorists and today carries more than a small chill or recognition as the reader follows their plot to use the Orange Bowl parade as a stage to frighten all the tourists out of Florida and return it to its once pristine, and mythological, beauty. Nevertheless, this book is worth a read.

Tourist Season is most interesting to a fan of Carl Hiaasen’s novels as an historical piece, the first novel from this engaging, thought provoking, and humorous writer. In it, he introduces all the prototype characters who have become his trademark in the eleven or twelve that have followed. Almost all his books feature a somewhat depressed former or present newspaper writer who’s become disengaged from his job, but who finds his life taking on new meaning in the face of the criminal depredations visited on the Florida, the state Hiaasen reveres, by developers, tourists, and the cynical moneymakers who have destroyed Florida’s natural beauty and pristine wilderness. The hero triumphs at least partly because he’s animated by the issue involved and partly because he meets and falls in love with an engaging young woman whose life has become enmeshed in the plot. The bad guys usually are a combination of cynical users whose only motivation is making money and who don’t mind destroying the beauty of Florida to do so, corrupt politicians willing to be bought or used, and a series of grotesque red-necks who generally can’t get anything right. Hiaasen’s plots are convoluted, laugh out loud funny, and impossibly derived from the waste being laid to the environment. His situations are real and worth ridiculing, and some hope may remain that Hiaasen can exert some influence on development patterns in south Florida using humor as his main weapon.

Tourist Season involves a plot hatched by Skip Wiley who, until recently, has been a successful columnist for a Miami newspaper. Finally, driven to distraction by the tourists and the destruction of the environment they bring with them, he joins forces with fellow wannabe revolutionaries Jesus Bernal, a Yale graduate and failed bomb maker, Viceroy Wilson, a retired professional football player, and Tommy Tigertail, a Seminole Indian made rich by reservation bingo, join forces to disrupt the annual Orange Bowl festival. Brian Keyes, a former newspaper reporter too nice to do the searing interviews of those experiencing tragedy, is hired to investigate the death of one of the victims and discovers the efforts of the plotters despite the city father’s efforts to avoid bad publicity through a cover up. He is also hired to protect the beautiful Kyra, Orange Bowl queen, from the mysterious terrorists. The plot quickly picks up speed and is filled with hilarious twists and turns while never losing sight of Hiaasen’s essentially serious critique of the depredations visited upon his beloved south Florida.

Tourist Season is available from your local independent book store, the chains, or on line. Carl Hiaasen’s early work signals the directions his later work will take, but his humor works and readers will recognize his characters as simulacrums of those who have ruined the beauty of America in many places. The current recession won’t, unfortunately, lead to the restoration of our beaches, streams, or air.