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Review: Hiaasen's 'Razor Girl' a sharp Key West romp

As a book critic in this great weird state, I sometimes entertain myself by trying to guess which bizarre but real Florida news stories will show up in the next Carl Hiaasen novel.

I called this one when it happened back in 2010: A woman named Megan Barnes crashed her car into an SUV because she was shaving her, as news reports put it, "bikini area" while driving on Cudjoe Key.

She's the tacky titular muse for Hiaasen's rollicking new book, Razor Girl, his first novel for adult readers since Bad Monkey in 2013.

Razor Girl brings back Bad Monkey's main character, Andrew Yancey, a former Monroe County sheriff's deputy busted down to roach patrol — inspecting restaurants for the health department — after an unfortunate incident involving his girlfriend's husband and a Dustbuster. That girlfriend is long gone, but Yancey very much wants his old job back, to which end he gets unofficially involved in investigating the disappearance in Key West of reality TV star Buck Nance.

Buck, born Matthew Romberg in Milwaukee, got into show biz with his brothers in an all-accordion rock cover band called Grand Funk Romberg, which morphed into a country band, Buck Nance and the Brawlers. The Nance brothers soared to fame on a totally unreal reality show called Bayou Brethren, on which, after having their teeth cosmetically darkened to go with their ZZ Top beards, they pose as Panhandle chicken farmers and squabble like banty roosters.

Buck comes to Key West for a personal appearance to tell "humorous redneck yarns" at the Parched Pirate bar. En route separately is his Hollywood agent and minder, Lane Coolman. And that's where Razor Girl comes in.

Merry Mansfield is an accomplished con artist who specializes in "bump jobs," staged car accidents that allow her partner in crime, a tough guy named Zeto, to kidnap the crashed-into driver, usually because that person owes money to the Mob.

Merry, like most of the world, read about Megan Barnes' close shave and was inspired to adopt her method. If a driver is shook up by being hit from behind, imagine how much more flustered he'll be if he walks back to the other car and sees a pretty redhead with a razor in her hand and her panties around her knees. Who would notice a lurking kidnapper?

As Razor Girl begins, though, Merry goofs. She crashes into the wrong rental car driver: Coolman. Zeto kidnaps him anyway, and while they sort that out, Buck, nervous and drunk, goes on stage at the Parched Pirate and starts spewing racist and homophobic jokes.

"Soon enough," Hiaasen writes, "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 flees into the night, losing his possessions along the way and setting both Yancey and, once he's free, Coolman on his trail (along with the national media).

Meanwhile, Zeto's real target is getting into his own kind of trouble. Martin Trebeaux owns Sedimental Journeys, a company specializing in that exercise in utter futility known as beach renourishment. Trebaux has refined the scam: He steals sand from one beach, ships it up or down the coast to renourish another, then goes back and sells his services to the community he stole the sand from in the first place.

It's a sweet deal, but greed is leading him into a partnership with people who could eat him for breakfast, notably a mobster named Dominick "Big Noogie" Aeola and Aeola's flamboyant girlfriend, who has "called herself Juveline since age fifteen, when she'd been caught selling knockoff Burberry totes and a cop at the booking desk misspelled the word 'juvenile.' "

Besides hunting Buck, Yancey is dealing with an obnoxious couple who want to build a McMansion on the lot next door to his secluded home. The male half of the pair, Brock Richardson, is a product-liability lawyer leading a class-action lawsuit against the makers of Pitrolux, a combo underarm deodorant-erectile dysfunction drug with some very unpleasant side effects — as Brock confirms, to his dismay, when he starts using it himself.

Yancey is also at odds with his current girlfriend, Rosa Campesino, who, burned out by her job in a Miami ER, has suddenly decamped for Oslo and wants him to quit his job and join her. On that job, he's wrangling a restaurant invaded by giant Gambian pouched rats, 9-pound rodents that are an honest-to-god invasive species in South Florida.

Far worse than the rats, though, is the man into whose grubby hands Buck falls: his biggest fan, Blister Krill. "While redneck stardom had exposed Buck to many white fans who were poor advertisements for a master race, Blister stood out as one of the worst specimens he'd ever met — stupid, reckless, dirty and delusional.

"And that's when he was stone cold sober."

Hiaasen sets all those plots spinning and then whirls them closer and closer to one another. Will Buck make it back home, and will Coolman keep his job? Will Blister get a role on Bayou Brethren? Among Trebeaux, Brock and the actual rats, who will survive?

And will Yancey ever find love? "It was hard to picture an even-keeled relationship with a person who took her last name from a dead movie star and crashed automobiles half-naked for a living," Yancey thinks, but it might be worth a try.

Contact Colette Bancroft at cbancroft@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8435. Follow @colettemb.

Razor Girl

By Carl Hiaasen

Knopf, 333 pages, $27.95

Review: Hiaasen's 'Razor Girl' a sharp Key West romp 09/01/16 [Last modified: Thursday, September 1, 2016 10:05am]
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