August 02, 2004 12:00 PM

By Carl Hiaasen


As in all of Hiaasen’s hilarious, socially conscious Florida tales (Skin Tight, Strip Tease), the bad guy gets the most laughs. The latest character to join the author’s gallery of eccentric sleazeballs is Chaz Perrone, a crooked biologist in league with a polluter who profits from the destruction of the Everglades. When the dim but studly, self-adoring Perrone suspects that his gorgeous wife, Joey, has discovered his misdeeds, he does what any second-honeymooning husband would do—tosses her into the shark-infested waters of the Atlantic while on their anniversary cruise. By pluck and experience—she used to be a competitive swimmer—Joey survives, but not before all her clothes are torn off as she hits the water (hence the excellent title). After a night spent clinging to a smuggler’s abandoned bale of reefer, she is rescued by a former investigator turned Biscayne Bay Robinson Crusoe.

While Joey spends the remainder of the book trying to divine what she ever saw in her murderous-schnook mate, her benefactor—assisted by a cop with a weakness for albino pythons and a hit man who steals crosses from makeshift highway memorials—helps her exact revenge. Like the characters, the plot is a hoot, but the real laughs are in Hiaasen’s telling. A master of the off-the-wall simile, the man writes like Chaz Perrone talks: “chatty as a cockatoo on PCP.”


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