Carl Hiaasen launches a welcomed return assault on South Florida as he aims his rapier wit toward Star Island. Star Island, the habitat of the world’s Glitterati, actually exists in the Florida Keys. It is inhabited by movie stars, pop singers and billionaire scions of industry, who come and go behind the blacked-out windows in caravans of giant black SUVs. It also embraces those mysterious glam celebrities who, lacking any discernible talent, display such spectacularly outrageous personal behaviors that they are seen regularly on the front pages of supermarket tabloids and, all too frequently, the national news.
By unwritten fiat, petty crime does not exist on Star Island. Its cosseted inhabitants are immune from the inconveniences of DUIs, public brawls, drug use, property damage and other miseries of the common folk. Their only natural enemy is the dreaded paparazzi, encountered when they leave their sanctuary. These predators, armed with camcorders, cell phones and telephoto lenses, hunt in large, unruly and smelly packs outside the exclusive dance clubs, restaurants and hotels along the South Beach strip where Star Islanders gather to play. The more savvy paparazzi have identified all the side exits and are on speed dial with the waiters and bellboys who provide star alerts for pay. A sleazy information trade economy has arisen between them and paparazzi through texted tips and voicemails on the honor system. Only the credo of honor among thieves could make this work, and when it falters, it can be costly, as successful paparazzo Bang Abbott discovers.
Bang Abbott is a former Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer who discovers that one revealing photo of an overdosed pop star being loaded into an ambulance is worth three months’ pay for shooting accident scenes and cats in trees for the local media. Bang is obsessed with a no-talent pop singer named Cherry Pye. We’ve all seen her clone on the front pages of tabloids and every TV entertainment show: the five-inch stiletto heels, the tiny skirts revealing sculpted legs, the tossed hair, the vapid stare. Cherry is sold as a pop singer, and has earned millions through a couple of chart-topping albums featuring her electronically altered voice and eye-popping photos. Her greatest salable talent is that she seems able to imbibe copious amounts of alcohol and drugs after which she passes out, often publicly. She becomes Bang’s meal ticket, and he will stop at nothing to stalk her, record her latest antics, and, in his own disturbing way, protect and adore her.
What the world (and Cherry) doesn’t know is that her parents have hired a double, a struggling girl-next-door look-alike actress named Ann de Lucia to stand in (or lie in as circumstances may require) for Cherry in her most extreme excesses. This job keeps Ann employed in a down economy, while Cherry is whisked off to exclusive private hospitals for stomach pumping and rehab as her legendary misbehavior keeps her name alive. Cherry, however, has developed escape skills to defy her entourage of publicists, bodyguards and lawyers. This not only complicates the cover-up, but when her antics approach a near-death event, some in her entourage suddenly recognize that she may be worth more as a dead legend than a live wild child. This threatens not only Cherry’s life, but that of her doppelganger, Ann, who obviously knows too much. Cherry’s parents hire a new bodyguard named Chemo, one of Hiaasen’s more extreme characters. Fans may recall Chemo as the seven-foot tall, hideously scarred psychopath with a weed whacker for a hand. Really. Nobody messes with Chemo, including Cherry.
When Ann decides to take a break from the Cherry Pye freak show for a respite in the Florida Keys, she drives off the road into the swamp in a swirling bank of fog. There she is rescued by Hiaasen’s most popular anti-hero, the mentally unhinged former Florida governor Clinton (Skink) Tyree, who now lives in hiding amongst the alligators in the mangrove swamps. Skink, who trusts no one, sees the honesty and humanity in Ann and uncharacteristically becomes her guardian and perhaps avenging angel when the danger to her looms.
STAR ISLAND is another classic romp through the Floridian world of exploitation and excess in which there seems to be no end of subject matter. Only Hiaasen could lead us through the tricky swampland of plot twists and turns with such wicked humor, even drawing a bead on his favorite target, the ever-present, unprincipled and now flat broke land developers. Skink’s makeover and introduction to the South Beach night scene is worthy of its own reality show.
Reviewed by Roz Shea on January 23, 2011