Puppy Love

Sick Puppy, by Carl Hiaasen (Alfred A. Knopf). Cloth, $25.

ARIZONA HAS MUCH to learn from Miami Herald columnist and comic novelist Carl Hiaasen. Over the course of eight hilarious tomes, Hiaasen has painted an indelible picture of human greed and stupidity as these qualities play out in a sun-drenched landscape populated by strangers from all over. In other words, his is a world not unlike our own.

Enviro-raping developers, venal politicians and the desperate, some might say deeply disturbed, heroes who try against all odds to head off the inevitable, tacky commercial blight rapidly metastasizing across Florida are the stuff of Hiaasen's decidedly suburban, post-apocalyptic vision.

His characters are dead on, too. In Sick Puppy we meet asshole lobbyist Palmer Stoat, a corrupt, pompous litterbug, whose slovenly treatment of Mother Nature attracts the impromptu ire of one Twilly Spree, a freelance enviro-activist with an anger-management problem.

Spree kidnaps Stoat's dog, a Labrador, to teach him a lesson, but winds up falling in love with Stoat's wife, Desie. She's dissatisfied with the amoral pig she's married and quickly decides to play along with Spree's kidnapping game.

Hijinks ensue, not the least of which is the murder of a disillusioned naturalist working for Robert Clapley, a hood turned developer who wants to transform a forgotten piece of Florida called Toad Island into millions of beachfront bucks.

In one of the twisted side stories that make Hiaasen's books so hilarious, Clapley is also busy transforming two eastern european prostitutes into living, breathing twin Barbie dolls through the miracle of plastic surgery.

Spree tries to put a stop to Clapley's nefarious real-estate development by mailing Stoat what are purported to be pieces of his pooch (but which are actually taken from a little too conveniently placed roadkill--hey, nobody said this stuff is great art). Spree's expectation is that Stoat will convince Florida's former Toytota-dealer governor, Dick Artimus, to kill the project; but, of course, things don't always work out as planned.

In a completely wrongheaded move, Artimus tries to enlist the help of Clinton Tyree, a former Florida governor who's gone native, so to speak, and is now known as a legendary swamp ghost called Skink. Tyree is a regular in Hiaasen's humid and far from humdrum epics.

How these amusing characters and many more interact in the hothouse commercialism of South Florida is a cynical delight indeed. If you haven't yet dipped into Hiaasen's wacky world where human decency has been unhinged by banks, builders and real-estate developers, don't worry--it's right outside your door. But reading his books may help you keep your sense of humor about what's happening in our town.

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