Tag Archives: Carl Hiaasen

RAZOR GIRL by CARL HIAASEN


 

Razor Girl by Carl Hiaasen

 

Book Review

I’m not crazy about crime novels. The bleak Scandi crime novels leave me stone cold – well, they would, wouldn’t they? All that snow, ice and long dark winters are bound to produce that effect. Obviously.

And the Pathologist-cum-detective genre make me queasy. If I’d wanted to minutely investigate human anatomy I would have studied medicine. Which I chose not to do. Probably last on my Career Choice list.

Therefore, it is with a sigh of relief that I dive into the sun kissed frolicsome  pages of Carl Hiaasen’s novels. Any novel set in Florida is allowed to have the word frolicsome  in the review – sun, sand, bikinis, East Coast winter fugitives, retirees, oranges, hurricanes … clearly the setting is bound to be jollier than sub-Arctic Norway.

In Hiaasen’s semi-mythical world of the Florida Keys, there is a profusion of criminal low-life:  scammers, insurance fraudsters,  adulterers, gold-diggers, (all that sand encourages the pests), drunks, burglars, weed pushers, cold beers, rattling palm leaves, the Mafia, crooked property agents, lawyers (a.k.a. scum of the earth in Hiaasen’s world), muscular heavies, fishing and more cold beers, disgraced but noble ex-detectives, mistresses, car-crashes … it’s all fun, fun and more fun still.  Oh – last one: the odd murder or two, but that’s in passing. And the deceased deserved it anyway.

Hiaasen’s latest romp has the added entertainment of a truly terrible red-necked TV Reality Show , the patriarch of which sorry series is the catalyst for a seemingly never-ending chain of events involving a deranged, semi-brain dead fan of said dreadful TV garbage,  abduction, kidnap, ransom;  the TV show’s   scheming  Agents and Execs, their private jets, suspect contracts, deals and deception,  etc. etc. And the cherry on  top is that Hiaasen is laugh-out-loud FUNNY. Yes, you heard me. In a crime novel, nogal* .

If you think I’ve given the plot away, relax: I haven’t. The plot in Hiaasen’s latest criminal caper has so many wonderful colourful stories tangled up like nylon fishing line, that I couldn’t possibly be writing a spoiler.

Thank heavens for Mr Carl Hiaasen, and his cheerful, clever crime novels.  He’s a prize-winning journalist with a regular column in the Miami Herald ; a born and bred Floridan, still resident in that sunny State. I suspect many of the outrageous incidents and  bizarre characters in his fiction originate from  his  life as a  working journalist. You can’t make up some of the incidents in his novels,  you really can’t.

Thank you, Mr Hiaasen, from a jaded reader. Thank you for a marvellous series of novels that provide pages of sparkling entertainment. In fact, now that I think about it, I do believe I am going to start collecting his crime novels. If you’ve never had the pleasure of reading  Hiaasen, do not wait another minute, run  to your nearest Library &/or book shop. Start reading. Immediately.  Enjoy!

*nogal – South Africanism =  yet.

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THE ORCHID THIEF – Susan Orlean Book Review


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For years I’ve been promising myself that when I’m in my dotage, housebound and no longer able to run around like I do now, I shall grow orchids. It’s something I’ve always fancied doing. However, I’m now having second thoughts, having read Susan Orlean’s account of all things orchid related in Florida, USA. Although, let’s face it, I don’t see orchid growing in Cape Town, South Africa, being one-hundredth as exciting as orchid growing in America.

It’s an extraordinary book.  No wonder it featured on the New York Times Bestseller list – I’ve never read anything like it in the non-fiction category. And by the way, difficult to believe it is non-fiction.  The book is hot, steamy,  lush  and colourful just like the Florida Keys where some of the events (I nearly said ‘action’) takes place. Throw in the  local Florida Seminole Indians who claim rights to anything on their tribal land i.e. the muddy, gator infested swamps, where orchids flourish. Add a band of orchid thieves, smugglers, growers and collectors, add a few adjectives like: manic , obsessive, passionate, and  conniving and you’ve got my  liveliest non-fiction read of 2015.

From early 1800s  to  the close of the 19th century, the heyday of orchid hunting and collecting, the chapter is titled “A Mortal Occupation”,  aptly titled, because the casualties were legion. Orchid hunting in the jungles of South America and Asia was perilous, ruthless, dangerous, life-threatening. If not from tropical disease, dangerous wildlife, hostile inhabitants then there were the  other orchid hunters to contend with. Many of the exploits of the orchid hunters read like episodes from an Indiana Jones adventures.

A Victorian orchid Grower, living in Britain  Frederick Sander, was ruthlessly competitive. He employed professional  orchid hunters who routinely gave up their lives to fuel his passion. His chief adversary was a German collector Carl Robelin, and these two Victorian orchid hunters went to extraordinary lengths to secure rare plants.

That old buccaneering, adventuring attitude to orchid collection appears to live on in the world of orchids.  The 21st century  orchid scene is rife with  burglaries, swindles, and  shenanigans  which would fit well into any of Carl Hiaasen’s Florida crime novels.

Who knew such beautiful flowers generated such passion, such criminality? Who knew that modern orchid shows attract orchid fanatics, some of whom are millionaires; some of whom bankrupt themselves in pursuit of their passion? At its height, in Europe, mid 1800s, the orchid craze surpassed the Dutch tulip craze of centuries ago.

Maybe I’d better start my orchid growing project now, whilst I’m still strong enough to fight off rival collectors?

Don’t miss this book: its hugely entertaining and informative. The book is not that recent, it was published in 1998, but it’s worth hunting down. (In the true spirit of orchid collecting!)

 

 

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BOOK REVIEW: SHADOW by Karin Alvtegen


BOOK REVIEW: SHADOW  by Karin Alvtegen

 

I don’t read many crime novels, but this novel was pressed upon me by a member of my Book Club, who  insisted I read it. Which I dutifully did.  Having done so, I’m yet again reminded why – on the whole – I try to avoid Scandinavian crime novels. They are irredeemably bleak and this one is no exception.

None of the central characters are happy – in fact, they are downright miserable, unhappy, desperate and/or drunk all of the time. Five of the main protagonists are writers of one sort or another – novelists, a playwright and a poet. Success and fame has not brought them the fullfilment and happiness you might reasonably expect. If I were hunting for a book which acts as a dreadful warning to wannabe writers, this is the book I would shove into their hands in the certain knowledge that it would prevent them from even contemplating  writing as a career, let alone putting fingers to keyboard!

Let me add that one of the secondary characters is also a writer, and he commits suicide in an attempt to publicise his forthcoming first novel!  See what I mean about undiluted angst, snot and trane? I don’t expect a crime novel to be filled with sunshine and light – how can they be, given the subject matter? But, hey! enough is enough.  And this novel lays it on by the shovelful.

As the book progresses, the tale grows darker and darker.  About one-third of the way through there was no apparent crime, but by the end there are plenty, in every direction. At the outset I was puzzled by the lack of bodies (or bank heists and the like) and there was no detective or process of solving whodunit;  the novel does not follow this formulaic path. The crimes and the truth – murky and convoluted –   are slowly revealed as we trudge onwards and downwards.

Karin Alvtegen is a well-know Swedish crime writer, her work has been translated into 27 languages, and she has written three other novels. Shadow was shortlisted for the CWA International Dagger 2009. I have to say I won’t be reading another of her novels. Too black and bleak for me.

  • A footnote: Lest you think I am anti-crime novels, I’m not. I thoroughly enjoyed all  Deon Meyer’s South African crime novels; ditto all Carl Hiaasen’s romps through the crimes, pecadilloes and characters of the Florida Keys; and I gobbled up every page of JK Rowling/Robert Galbraith’s two Cormorant Strike novels. I’m eagerly awaiting #3.

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MY 2014 READING YEAR


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2014 has not been a good Reading Year for me – I got off to a bad start with eyesight problems, which weren’t resolved until mid-May, so  I’ve not read as many books as usual. My list shows books which I read during 2014, and  is a mixture of Old & New. Some of them were published way, way before 2014; some of them in the late 1990s in fact, but I only had the pleasure of discovering them this year. One of my less obvious categories is ‘Books About Books’ : I’m hooked on books, and love reading  books about reading and books. We all have our quirks.

I hope  my list will introduce some new  suggestions for your own reading .

Best Book of 2014

The 40 Rules of Love – Elif Shafak

Not to be missed book : 2014

The Buddha in the Attic – Julie Otsuka

Most Original Book of 2014

We Are all Completely Beside Ourselves – Karen Joy Fowler

Books About Books:2014

Tolstoy and the Purple Chair – Nina Sankovitch

Funniest Book: 2014

Nature Girl – Carl Hiaasen

Most Challenging Read of 2014

Living by Fiction – Annie Dillard

Best Gothic Novel : 2014

Marina – Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Best Non-Fiction : 2014

12 Patients (Life & Death at Bellevue Hospital) – Dr E  Manheimer

Best Travel Book : 2014

The Way of Stars & Stones – Wilna Wilkinson

Best short stories: 2014

The Barnum Museum – Steven Millhauser

Best Crime 2014

Diamond Dove – Adrian Hyland

Great Reads (Novels): 2014

The Bone Clocks – David Mitchell

Big Brother – Lionel Shriver

The Rosie Project – Graeme Simision

The World We Found – Thrirty Umnigar

Epic Fail/unreadable  2014

The Infatuation – Javier Marias

Swann’s Way – Marcel Proust

 

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