Scat, By Carl Hiaasen

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The Independent Culture

Carl Hiaasen is a supremely entertaining writer whose novels also bear a timely message. Any guilt about spending reading hours in his amiable literary backwater is expunged by the passion with which he argues the environmental case in his eco-thrillers. The only difference between this latest novel, ostensibly aimed at teenagers, and his adult ones is the absence of a sexual context.

Otherwise, all the Hiaasen trademarks are there: wit, particularly in the vituperative repartee as weak characters squirm in the face of stronger ones, an abiding belief in the power of the individual to alter things, and an instinct for ingenious plotting that never lets him down.

Scat is set in Hiaasen's beloved Florida Everglades, for him one of the worst examples of the ecological disaster that follows when human greed impacts on a fragile environment. Home to the rare Florida panther, its remaining swamps are under threat from property developers and oil prospectors. A crooked businessman, Drake McBride, who enjoys spending money more than working for it, decides to look for oil in Black Vine Swamp, whose wildlife is still protected. Up against him is a mysterious, nomadic man of the woods, a spinster biology teacher and some teenagers with problems of their own. As in all Hiaasen novels, the good guys finally win, and that includes the panther cub they are trying to reunite with its mother.

In a novel told largely in dialogue, with the shambolic villains coming over as wickedly funny as well as reprehensible, other themes include the plight faced by a wounded soldier returning from Iraq. He is the father of Nick, the junior hero of this story along with Marta, his Cuban girlfriend. Unusually for teenage novels, Nick loves both his father and his mother in a full and uncomplicated way, and this feeling is returned. There are several references within Scat to Edward Abbey and his ground-breaking eco-novel The Monkey Wrench Gang, published over 30 years ago. This story is its natural successor.

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