Picks and Pans Review: Native Tongue

updated 09/30/1991 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/30/1991 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Carl Hiaasen

The depiction of aberrant sexual behavior by bottle-nosed dolphins," says Hiaasen's note, "is based on true cases on file with the Florida state marine laboratory." If plausibility is Hiaasen's concern, the dolphins are the least of his worries, but no matter.

This is a wonderfully readable novel, centering on the Amazing Kingdom of Thrills, a seedy Disney-imitation theme park in the Florida Keys. Owned by Francis X. Kingsbury, a bewigged felon with a lewd tattoo, the Kingdom has all kinds of problems, among them the costly liability insurance necessitated by such accidents as the malfunction of a mechanical bull at the Wild Bill Hiccup Corral. ("An elderly British tourist had been hospitalized with a 90-degree crimp in his plastic penile implant. The jury's seven-figure verdict had surprised no one.") Larger worries include the theft of the Kingdom's two rare blue-tongued mango voles and the murder of vole expert Dr. Will Koocher, whose body is found in the stomach of Orky, the Kingdom's killer whale.

What does all this have to do with the development of nearby Falcon Trace, with its golf course, tennis courts, spas and "luxury waterfront" sites? The answer is sought by Joe Winder, a publicist for the Kingdom, who gets badly roughed up before he is done. Winder is comforted, however, by two women: Nina, obliging voice of a dial-a-fantasy phone service, and Carrie, who performs, in a fur suit, as the Kingdom's Robbie Raccoon.

Winder, Nina and Carrie are, by Hiaasen's standards, everyday folk. The novel's more exotic characters include the elderly environmentalist Molly McNamara, who, when peeved, shoots people in the hand or foot, and Pedro Luz, the Kingdom's steroid-stoked security chief, a man so tough that when pinned under a Buick he frees himself by chewing his foot off.

Hiaasen, a journalist for The Miami Herald who mined similarly raucous territory in Tourist Season and other novels, is clearly opposed to the despoiling of the Florida Keys by golf courses and condos. But he has wisely disguised do-good intent. While staid readers may bridle at Native Tongue's lunacy, it is first-rate entertainment. (Knopf, $21)

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