Written by Carl Hiaasen — Lane Coolman is the wrong man in the right place and at the right time. It’s February and Coolman, an agent to TV reality star Buck Nance, has just landed in Miami and is heading south to Key West. Nance has a gig at a local bar, talking about his experience. However, Coolman never makes his rendezvous.
Coolman’s rental car is struck from behind my another vehicle. He goes to investigate and finds a woman at the wheel of the other car, mobile phone in one hand, razor blade in the other. She introduces herself as Merry Mansfield. Her trousers and underwear are bunched around her knees. To Coolman’s surprise Merry says she’s shaving before a date and asks him not to call the cops. Thinking his luck is in, Coolman agrees and heads off to a motel with her. However, it’s a setup and he is kidnapped by Zeto.
Nance’s gig goes terribly. He manages to racially and sexually insult most of the audience, so he flees bar before he’s beaten up and goes on the run. In the meantime his performance ends up on social media. The press gets hold of it and becomes a massive story.
The trouble for Merry is that she has hit the wrong guy. She was supposed to target a guy called Martin Trubeaux, who was driving the same make of car along the same road. Trubeaux sells sand, tonnes of it at a time, to beachfront properties having first illegally hoovered it up from the seabed. He’s wanted by the mafia because he’s cheated the wrong person. Merry and Zeto see an opportunity to make some money and they call Coolman’s boss, Amp, to get a huge ransom. However, Amp doesn’t believe Coolman is in danger and is much too interested in dealing with the fallout from Nance’s performance and the impact on the top rated TV show he stars in.
Andrew Yancy is an ex-detective. Now he patrols restaurants in Key West, looking for health and safety infractions. Yancy is keen to impress the local chief of police, the guy who fired him in the same place. When he learns Nance is missing he starts his own investigation. Before long he has a car crash. When he goes to speak to the driver he finds a woman in the process of shaving…
This is my first taste of Carl Hiassen’s much praised black humour and I wasn’t disappointed. This is a very well-constructed, sharp novel, packed with a stack of story strands that run in parallel and eventually overlap at the end in a smart conclusion.
Besides the multiple arcs there’s a huge cast of really great characters which Hiaasen manages with aplomb. The best of the lot is Merry, the Razor Girl herself. She is the jewel of this novel and really deserves a book of her own. As a con-artist extraordinaire, even she herself is not sure of what’s a lie, and what is the truth.
Yancy too is interesting, a man with problems beyond just having a job he hates. He lives in a great house and someone is trying to buy the place next door and so will ruin his view. Yancy’s long term girlfriend, a trauma nurse, lives in another part of the country and is planning a trip to Scandinavia to find herself.
In addition Hiaasen throws in plenty of quirky aspects, such as the personal grooming episodes on the highway, and massive rats which Yancy is having trouble dealing with. He’s a man with a bit of a twisted mind. The novel operates well enough as a stand alone. For example, Yancy’s past as an actual detective and the fall to his current position is alluded to as backstory, rather than essential reading.
Razor Girl is not laugh out loud funny, more a constant stream of amusement that will keep a smile on your face.
The last Carl Hiaasen book we reviewed was Bad Monkey, and for more Florida noir check out the Travis McGee series by John D MacDonald.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars