Book Review: 'Razor Girl,' By Carl Hiaasen Gleefully obscene, violent and shockingly funny, Razor Girl follows an ex-cop turned restaurant inspector on the tail of a car-crash con artist, a kidnapped TV agent and a loud-mouthed reality star.


Book Reviews

'Razor Girl' Is Carl Hiaasen Doing What He Does Best

Razor Girl
By Carl Hiaasen

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Razor Girl
Carl Hiaasen

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With all due respect to Marco Rubio, Pitbull and Tim Tebow, the most famous export from the Sunshine State these days is Florida Man. He's not a real guy, of course, but the subject of a popular Twitter account that compiles news stories about the sometimes bizarre antics of certain assorted oddballs living in America's third-largest state.

(Even NPR has gotten in on the action, with headlines like "Florida Man Tattoos Black Widow Spider On His Face," "Florida Man Fleeing From Cops Attacked By Alligator" and "Florida Man Surrounded By Cops Calls 911.")

If Florida Man had an official biographer, it would undoubtedly be Carl Hiaasen, who for decades has highlighted the more colorful sides of his state in mystery novels such as Strip Tease, Lucky You and Sick Puppy. His latest book, Razor Girl, is at turns gleefully obscene, shockingly violent and riotously funny. In other words, it's Carl Hiaasen doing what he does best.

Razor Girl opens with a minor car crash caused deliberately by titular character Merry Mansfield. When the driver of the car she rear-ends — a reality TV agent named Lane Coolman — approaches her, he finds Merry nonchalantly shaving a most intimate area of her body. He is, in spite of himself, intrigued, and agrees to give her a ride, which culminates in his kidnapping by Merry's unsavory employer.

Coolman's abduction is bad news for Buck Nance, his client and the star of Bayou Brethren, a Duck Dynasty knockoff centered around a family of (mostly) bearded Cajuns who raise roosters. (In reality, they're professional accordionists from Wisconsin, but reality TV isn't always, you know, real.)

Buck is left high and dry at a Key West bar where he's been booked for a storytelling session. He's off his game, and improvises with a few racist and homophobic jokes. This proves inadvisable: "Soon enough it was explained to Buck Nance that Key West was a bad location to be making fun of homosexuals and also African Americans. This bulletin was delivered by a 275-pound biker who happened to be both gay and black, and owned a right hand that fit easily around Buck Nance's stringy hirsute neck."

Buck disappears, which draws the attention of Andrew Yancy, an ex-cop who got demoted to health inspector after assaulting a man he thought was a criminal with a portable vacuum cleaner. (The details of the assault are too ... explicit, let's say, to print here.) Soon Buck finds himself working with Merry to try to locate the missing agent and bayou brother.

The plots of Hiaasen's novels are exceedingly difficult to describe. His stories are as intricate as they are fast-paced, and the sheer number of characters he includes in each book makes summarizing them next to impossible, unless you want to sound like a stoner describing The Big Lebowski to a friend who's never seen it.

So let's just say that when all is said and done, the reader has been introduced to countless crooks and lowlifes, an elderly man who dies of a heart attack while trying to scrape an Obama bumper sticker off his neighbor's car, a thief with an ill-tempered pet mongoose, a drug that causes "random tissue deformities and life-threatening erections," and more Gambian pouched rats than you've probably ever read about. (Yes, they are real, and they are terrifying.)

In the hands of another author, Razor Girl could have turned out shambolic and confused. But Hiaasen is a gifted storyteller who knows that the key to keeping readers engaged is a mixture of suspense and humor. And his latest novel is just as hilarious as his previous ones, even when he's dealing with serious themes: "The election of a black president brought a boom in TV reality shows featuring feisty rednecks," he observes at one point, and later refers to the Nance family's "severe opinions about ... blacks, Muslims, Hispanics and probably Jews."

Razor Girl is vintage Hiaasen, in the very best way: darkly funny, unapologetically crazy, and more Florida than a flamingo eating a Cuban sandwich while singing a Jimmy Buffett song. (The odds of that flamingo ending up as a character in a forthcoming Hiaasen book, by the way, are actually pretty good.) It might even inspire you to head to the Sunshine State to see Florida Man in his natural habitat. Just make sure you watch out for the Gambian pouched rats.