Hiaasen's STAR ISLAND: blisteringly funny tale of sleazy popstars and paparazzi

People ask me all the time who my favorite writer is, and I always say something like, "Aw, I suck at favorites, here's bunch I like." But you know what? Secretly, my favorite writer is Carl Hiaasen -- specifically, his crime novels (though I'll trade a book of his essays or one of his brilliant kids' books for most any other book in the same field). After a four year hiatus, Hiaasen is back at crime novels with Star Island, a book that had me laughing so hard I was in danger of rupturing something important.

Cherry Pye (nee Cheryl Bunterman) is a semi-underage, self-regarding, lip-synching pop star created out of raw greed: hers, her parents', and her scumbag promoter's. She's so whacked out on star-power (AKA vodka, Red Bull, a rainbow of pharmaceuticals, and weirdly, laxatives and birdseed) (don't ask) that she needs her own body-double: Ann DeLusia, an out-of-work actor who's job it is to appear in public, pretending to be Cherry Pye while Cherry herself gets her stomach pumped or is dried out at a tony rehab.

But when a semi-homicidal, loathsome (and, weirdly, Pulitzer-winning) paparazzo named Claude becomes obsessed with Cherry and her no-doubt-imminent OD demise, the peaceful equilibrium of the "singer"'s life is shattered. What unfolds is classic Hiaasen, a series of misadventures involving some of my favorite characters from Hiaasen's other crime novels -- Skink, the feral ex-governor of Florida and Chemo, the 7-foot-tall, one-armed bumbling hitman whose face looks like it was mauled by a cheese-grater (don't ask) and whose left forearm has been augmented with a strap-on, battery-powered weed-whacker.

Hiaasen is so totally, utterly over-the-top in his humor, and so completely spot-on in his pop-culture skewerage (here he tackles stardom, PR, botox, blogging, Twitter, digital photography, subprime crises, and numerous other contemporary subjects) and yet so deft at creating incredibly likable protagonists and real dramatic tension that he redefines what "screwball" can mean.

I read Star Island over a weekend, sneaking away to cadge another page or two every few minutes, staying up late, getting up early. When I finished it, all I could say, was "Goddamn, that was a great book," over and over again, for about 20 minutes. It's a wonder my family didn't strangle me.

Star Island


  1. Jeez Cory if you like the guy so much get his character’s name right. Cherry Pye was nee Cheryl Bunterman… :-)

    1. Actually I’m a bit surprised given Cory’s self-seriousness about progressive causes. I like Hiaasen’s work too, but Hiaasen makes fun of *everyone*. He’s a bit like Tom Wolfe in that way.

  2. Mr. Badger — I’m a self-serious progressive, and I think Hiaasen is hilarious. Christopher Buckley, too. And Pete Hautman.

    People who love Steven King are not mass murderers. People who love Lawrence Block are not burglars or sleep-deprived killers. People who like Aaron Elkins are not anthropology professors. People who like Anne Rice are not self-important blood suckers. People who like South Park are not cartoon children.

    And many people, no matter how self-serious, can laugh at themselves. :-)

    That said, Star Island is by no means the best Hiaasen out there.

  3. Cory, if that were my book, I’d use your post as its story copy for the rest of its published life.

  4. Great fan review. CH is one of my guilty pleasures too. Any book with Skink in it is a special treat. Can’t wait to read this one, but I don’t dare pick it up until I finish some projects.

  5. Having read a couple of his other fiction (I just mistyped that as ‘fuction’, and maybe that was correct after all given how many of his characters seem dysfunctionally fucked up) titles in the past, and having greatly enjoyed them, I’m definitely going to look out his essays now – I had no idea.

  6. Haha, sounds like a great read. I love Carl Hiaasen’s other stuff, so I’ll be sure to check it out.

    Incidentally, Cory, who are the “bunch of writers” that you like? Just curious.

  7. I liked it, but it wasn’t my favorite. But even not-at-the-top-of-his-game Hiaasen is better than no Hiaasen. Badger, it’s no doubt BECAUSE he makes fun of absolutely everyone that Hiaasen is everyone’s favorite. He got me started reading crime novels again…

  8. Thanks for the heads up! I totally missed that Hiaasen had a new book out. He’s one of my Must Reads. (Kind of like Cory Doctorow)

  9. FYI, Star Island is a real place, in Biscayne Bay and just off the causeway near South Beach.

    According to Wikipedia Don Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal, Lenny Kravitz, Will Smith, Gloria Estefan, Rosie O’Donnell, Thalía, Madonna, Alex Rodriguez, P.Diddy, and Sylvester Stallone have owned property on Star Island.

  10. I never comment but I must chime in here: LOVE Carl Hiaasen. As a Floridian (shudder), I adore his perfect portrayals of the dirty trashy state I love. Corruption, sleaze, beauty, dead whales blocking the interstate…. Can’t wait to read this latest book!!

  11. In 8th grade when I moved to Florida, I started reading his stuff on the recommendation of my Spanish teacher. Beyond just his fiction (and thousands of newspaper articles), his anti-Disney Team Rodent (http://www.amazon.com/Team-Rodent-Disney-Devours-World/dp/0345422805) was also pretty excellent. I got to see him do a book reading at a local university a few years later: he’s fantastic in person. He answered a ton of questions, told some great stories, and I’m pretty sure he went well over time doing his reading and then signing books for everyone. I’d definitely recommend going to any of his author events.
    He was also the master writer at one of the many artist-in-residency programs at my local arts center: I only heard great things about him from all the authors who worked with him.

    Of course, now that I’ve exhausted Hiaasen and am residing over by Tampa, I’ve started reading(the much less slick, much more gritty) Tim Dorsey.

  12. I always love it when one of my favorite authors (yes, Cory, I’m talking about YOU!) shares my tastes. Hiaasen is always good, glad that you enjoy him as well.

    I remember reading Hiaasen’s book “Basket Case” and finding that he was friends with the late, great Warren Zevon and that Zevon wrote a song to supplement the book. (“Basket Case” the song appears on My Ride’s Here.)

    If you like Carl Hiaasen and can handle something a bit more hardcore in terms of satire, check out the works of Tim Dorsey, starting with “Florida Roadkill.”

  13. As much as I like Hiaasen’s universe, this time I just couldn’t finish the book. If he’s going to have a female character abducted in every book, at least, he should let her *stay in character* instead of have her loose instantly the brains and psychological resources she had in the previous chapters. Oh, and a little bit of motivation for the abductor would be nice, too! Yeah, we know he’s stupid and immoral, but when there’s obviously nothing to be gain from abducting the girl, what’s the point? Apart from churning out a standard damsel-in-distress plot, of course…

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