Friday 20 April 2018

Review: Star Island by Carl Hiaasen

Little Brown, €17.99

Margaret Carragher

For all their engagingly manic complexities, the plotlines of Carl Hiaasen's astute satirical tales are almost incidental: it's all about the characters.

In his latest offering, a hilarious send up of trash celebrity culture set in Hiaasen's home state of Florida, we meet twenty-something Cherry Pye, a vacuous, self-absorbed and utterly talentless pop star with a voracious appetite for drink, drugs and indiscriminate sex, and a comeback album to flog.

Having swallowed an unwise mix of vodka, Red Bull, hydrocodone, birdseed and stool softener, our heroine is bound yet again for celebrity rehab. Meanwhile, her body double, Ann DeLusia -- pressed into service whenever Cherry Pye is too thrashed to appear in public -- is summoned to dupe the paparazzi, one of whom, Bang Abbott, cops on to the ruse. Long obsessed with his quarry, the odious Abbott resolves to kidnap Cherry Pye for a fantasy photo shoot, but ends up instead with Ann, one of the few fairly normal and likeable characters in Hiaasen's morally and culturally barren Floridian landscape.

On realising his mistake, Abbott contacts Cherry's handlers with a ransom demand: a private photo shoot with Cherry Pye in exchange for the safe return of Ann. However, mindful of her already precarious position, and the greed, duplicity and sheer venality of Team Pye, Ann contacts Skink, a slightly manic, one-eyed former state governor turned moral crusader who lives in a mangrove swamp, terrorises corrupt property developers and feeds off roadkill -- as you do if you're a veteran character of Hiaasen's novels and the notion takes you.

Having taken a fancy -- albeit sweetly platonic -- for Ann, Skink emerges from his crocodile infested lair to rescue her from Abbott's sweaty paws.

Meanwhile, as Cherry Pye engages in group therapy with similarly strung out inmates of Rainbow Bend, her rapidly dwindling fortune continues to fuel a gravy train packed with bottom feeders: her record producer and concert promoter Maury Lykes; her nipped, tucked and lavishly Botoxed publicists Lucy and Lila Lark; her hyper-aggressive and dangerously unhinged giant bodyguard Chemo. Not to mention the absurdly dysfunctional Cherry Pye family: Bloody Mary-swilling mother Janet and her retinue of toy boy tennis coaches; father Ned and the bisexual middle-aged Danish couple with whom he shares a passion for fine wines and group sex; and a trio of brothers, the youngest of whom depends on his sister's toneless warblings to fund his art gallery in La Jolla dedicated to homoerotic sculpture and watercolours on butcher paper, painted with the tail of his deaf Persian cat.

A lot, then, riding on the outcome of Bang Abbott's ransom demand.

Will the odious snapper achieve his dream of a photo session with his quarry before her party life inevitably unravels? Will the besotted Skink track down his platonic lady love before Team Pye intervenes?

In the end, it hardly matters. As in all the best travel, it's the journey, not the destination that counts. And with Hiaasen at the wheel, readers are in for a crazy, riotous, and thoroughly rib-tickling ride.

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