thursday's book; Lucky You by Carl Hiaasen (Macmillan, pounds 16.99)

If you start your career with a couple of books as alarmingly funny and original as Hiaasen's first Florida black comedies, Tourist Season and Double Whammy, it's an unfortunate fact that, after a while, people are going to start complaining that you're repeating yourself. With that in mind, perhaps the easiest thing here would be to write two separate reviews. The first should be marked "for new readers only" and it should commend the pace, outrageous characterisation, surreal humour and political bite that leaps off every page of Lucky You, a caper woven around the adventures of two winning tickets from the Florida state lottery.

The two tickets, this first review should explain, entitle the holders to equal shares of a $28 million jackpot. The first belongs to a Ms JoLayne Lucks, a 35-year-old black veterinary nurse. The second, unfortunately, is picked by a pair of white supremacists who get it into their heads that they would like the other ticket too, and promptly beat and burgle the unfortunate Ms Lucks.

First-time readers can thrill to the chase as JoLayne and bored newsman Tom Krome pursue the neo-Nazis through the Florida swamps, and gasp as nature wreaks a hideous vengeance. Especially the bit with the giant blue crab.

The second review, for those already familiar with Hiaasen's work, should go more like this. Lucky You, in common with Hiaasen's last three or four books, sees him coasting. The themes that were so fresh a decade ago - the surreal madness of life in South Florida, the evil of developers, the dangerous violence of Florida rednecks, the venality of TV evangelists, doctors, lawyers - are now close to cliches. His stock characters (the wild newspaperman, the plucky thirtysomething heroine) are likewise getting a little too familiar.

The result is that a lot starts to depend on the plot being interesting. Lucky You, however, is the closest Hiaasen has come to a formula thriller. And the trouble with this formula - good guys and bad guys both chasing after the same pot of gold - is that we're never in much doubt as to who is going to win.

Along the way, of course, there's as much incident as ever. Easily the best scenes are those set in JoLayne's hometown of Grange, Florida, a community single-mindedly engaged in constructing bogus religious artefacts to fleece passing tourists. The 12 turtles with their shells depicting the Apostles are a particular stroke of genius.

Less appealing are the redneck Nazis, a stereotype that has been done to death in recent years. And experienced readers may feel that the dead- crab-attached-to-the-redneck's-arm scene reminds them more than a little of the dead-pitbull-attached-to-the psychopath's-arm sequence in Double Whammy.

All of which adds up to saying that, by most people's standards, Lucky You is as fast and funny a thriller as you could wish for. By Hiaasen's own standards, however, it's no more than so-so.

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