Tourist Season

My reading of Carl Hiaasen’s Tourist Season could not be more well timed. Not only is Miami rapidly approaching its tourist season, otherwise known as the influx of snowbirds, but I recently spent many hours on the back of a motorcycle admiring the beauty of undeveloped South Florida and contemplating the horrors and destructive nature of expansion.

Hiaasen was born and raised in South Florida and has been a columnist for the Miami Herald since 1976. I have been a fan of his column since I was in my teens, but I had never read one of his novels, a fact that one of CableDad’s friends found both shocking and apparently unacceptable. He sent us three books, Tourist Season is the first. Coincidentally it is also Hiaasen’s first solo novel.

I should preface my discussion of this book by admitting that I am not a fan of the detective novel genre. However, as I am a fan of Hiaasen and I am a fan of outspoken environmentalists, I steeled myself to sit down and make my way through a PI’s fight to track down an anti-tourist terrorist league in Miami in the 80s. I was not disappointed for my efforts. While I’m sure that Hiaasen has many fans who do not reside in South Florida, it is undeniable that a large part of why I found this book so appealing was because of the quirks of Miami that it depicts so perfectly.

In brief, the plot goes as follows: A reporter turned private investigator is, through a series of coincidences, brought onto the case of a bizarre series of deaths perpetrated by a terrorist group focused on eliminating tourism and forcing the “imports” to move out of South Florida. One individual is found dead in a suitcase in tacky tourist duds with a rubber alligator shoved down his throat. Another victim is a retiree who is fed to a crocodile. From there the attacks begin to get strange.

While the eccentric Skip Wiley is most certainly a caricature of a native Floridian cum environmentalist, as the book is written he can not be written off so lightly. While humor runs deeply throughout this novel, there is a MUCH bigger issue at hand. And it’s blatant, not even an undercurrent. In fact, while I was reading Tourist Season I was strongly reminded of another environmentalist author, Edward Abbey. Skip Wiley could most accurately be described as an eco-terrorist and were he in the southwest instead of the southeast he would certainly have been part of the Monkey Wrench Gang.

Although I’m making light of the book it has an incredibly important message. Twenty-one years ago, when Tourist Season was written, South Florida was in a sad state of repair. The Everglades were being encroached upon by the waves of people moving into the state, the highways were overcrowded and production centers of smog. Not much has changed, as is evidenced by the Everglades funding bill which has just now, nearly seven years after the fact, cleared congress but is likely to be vetoed by Bush and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has had more pro-development members appointed to it.

Although I’ve always been a bit of the environmentalist, reading this book in conjunction with my recent trip through the unpopulated areas of South Florida brought home to me the real and significant danger our state is in. That is something about which I feel many more people should be made aware. One can not have expansion and “development” without harmful byproducts and side effects The Everglades are not a limitless resource and we can’t keep trampling on nature and expect there to be no consequences.

In light of this undeniable fact and with deference to Mr. Hiaasen I want to draw your attention to two of my personal favorite conservation societies. Environment Florida and the Everglades Conservation Network. Help make a difference.

My apologies for turning this book review into a rant about the deplorable state of Florida’s everglades, but it felt somehow appropriate here.

NEXT UP: I’m currently half-way through Margaret George’s Helen of Troy.

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~ by CableGirl on Wednesday, October 3, 2007.

One Response to “Tourist Season”

  1. I read Tourist Season this summer and thought it was amazing, for many of the reasons you mentioned. Hiaasen is pretty darned amazing in his ability to spin a good yarn and leave us with something to think about, whether we want to or not.

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