By Heidi Simmons
Perhaps the best part of reading fiction is escapism. Need a break from your sweet, but “usual” friends, or cold climate or mundane existence? Reading is your ticket to an ever-changing and colorful life. In Carl Hiaasen’s Razor Girl (Knopf, 352 pages), unusual is the norm.
Although Razor Girl can stand on its own, this Hiaasen novel is even more fun if you read the author’s previous book Bad Monkey. The “hero” in both books is Andrew Yancy, a former detective who lost his job after an unfortunate incident with a criminal, a DustBuster and a cruise ship.
But, that indeed is another story. Yancy is now demoted to a Health Department Restaurant Inspector; he roams the eateries in the Florida Keys insuring there are no rat turds or dead geckos in the food. (But, at the very least, Yancy still has a badge.) His goal is to once again get in good with the sheriff so he can be reinstated.
When a red-neck, bigoted, reality television star goes missing after a YouTube posted, drunken, racist tirade at a local biker bar, Yancy is called to a restaurant where beard hair has been found in the clam chowder.
Buck Nance, the patriarch of the network show “Bayou Brethren” and known as “Captain Cock,” — which pertains to the family’s multi-million dollar business of chicken farming and feather harvesting — goes off the rails, Yancy picks up his trail.
Meanwhile, Yancy comes in contact with “Razor Girl” aka Merry Mansfield, a con artist, who professionally, rear-ends unsuspecting drivers and then seduces them to get her way. Her trick is: she crashes into the mark who comes back to her car to see if she’s okay, only to discover a beautiful half-naked girl shaving her private parts. What man can resist her? Yancy can – at least for a bit.
There is a cast of wild characters whose lives and problems overlap: A class-action lawyer with a hormone addiction tries to build a house on the lot adjacent to Yancy’s property; A dude called “Sand Man” steals sand from nice beaches and sells it to hotels with ugly beaches; A Hollywood power broker wants his meal-ticket back; A Muslim tourist takes a fall; A Mafioso boss has a fake service dog named John, and a dim-witted fan boy wants to be a reality television star called Deerbone. Oh, and there are giant Gambian rats in the mix!
I like the laid-back, pot smoking nature of Yancy. He loves the warmth of the sun, the native wildlife and people of the Florida Keys. He values his simple lifestyle. But, he’s also a good detective – albeit unorthodox — and he likes a challenge. So he can’t help but involve himself – whether it’s desired or not.
With a myriad of crazy folks, the story lines twist and turn and can feel convoluted as the bigger picture comes into sharper focus. Business as usual in the Keys!
For me, “razor girl” Mansfield, lacked some development as a real human being. She had her moments, but I never understood her or felt the chemistry between her and Yancy. Her character bookends the story and she may very likely show up again. If so, I hope more well-rounded and with added depth.
I especially appreciated the irony of the Buck Nance reality TV character story line. His “real” name is Matt Romberg and he and his family are actually from the Mid West. A speech coach was hired to help the brothers fake their Louisiana accents.
The “Bayou Brethren” show has made Nance into a ratings winning super star. (Can’t help but think of the reality TV program Duck Dynasty.) Although it is true Nance dislikes anyone who isn’t Christian and white, he soon meets Deerbone who is a reflection of his TV persona. Nance recognizes the horror of who he has become and what he has created.
Razor Girl confronts television’s reality programing and how it might in fact impact viewer’s thinking, attitudes and culture. Nance/Romberg has an epiphany: “It was one thing to market a television program to attract low-class shitkickers; it was another thing to create them.”
Hmm, wasn’t Trump a reality TV star? Maybe one day Trump will have a similar awakening!
Author Hiaasen writes with humor and insight. He has a gift for authentic dialogue and witty repartee. There are raunchy moments that are cringe worthy, but that’s some of the fun when weird-ass characters are allowed to fully run a muck and self-destruct. It’s satisfying when Yancy solves the “crime” and finds peace sitting on his porch smoking a fat doobie watching the sunset.
So when you think your life is spinning out of control and filled with idiots, read a Hiaasen novel and embrace the distraction.
Carl Hiaasen will be speaking at the Rancho Mirage Writers Festival January 28 – 29