Merry Mansfield, the “razor girl” in Carl Hiaasen’s raucous new novel, came up with the idea for a scam while she was doing fake car crashes for insurance money in Miami. She read about a young woman who “rammed a carful of tourists” while shaving her bikini area. “She told the cops that she was tidying up down there to meet a boyfriend and took her eyes off the road,” Merry says, “which was too good not to be true.”
Inspired, Merry decides to adopt that story for her own purposes. She teams with a thug named Zeto to rear-end shady Key West land developer Martin Trebeaux. In one of the telltale intrusions of environmental policy into Hiaasen’s otherwise carefree tale, Trebeaux’s business of “beach renourishment” consists of trucking thousands of tons of sand to restore eroded beaches. “The enterprise is as costly as it is futile,” we’re told, “though for a few glorious months the shoreline appears authentic if not pristine.”
Unfortunately for Merry, she rear-ends the wrong rental car. Instead of snaring Trebeaux, she collides with Lane Coolman, a philandering, fast-talking agent for Platinum Artists Management. He’s immediately attracted to Merry and tries to interest her in accompanying him to a bar where his client, Buck Nance, is telling hillbilly anecdotes to an audience. (Buck is the patriarch of the clan on the hit television show “Bayou Brethren.” Although he and his family are actually from Wisconsin, “the network paid for a Cajun dialogue coach.”) But once Zeto turns up and learns that Merry’s car accident plan went awry, things start to look bad for Coolman.
It’s a classic Hiaasen setup, and “Razor Girl” delivers on it with seasoned, professional ease. The dialogue somehow sounds believable even at its most deadpan hilarious, and the multi-pronged satire — of Florida, corrupt cops, bumbling criminals and, most exquisitely, the entertainment industry — is gentle but merciless.
And regardless of how morally compromised she may be, readers will root for Merry Mansfield.
Steve Donoghue is managing editor of the online magazine Open Letters Monthly.
By Carl Hiaasen
Knopf. 333 pp. $27.95