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Skinny Dip
By Carl Hiaasen (Knopf, 355 pages, $24.95)

It's a lot easier these days not to get excited about a new Carl Hiaasen book, and the use of old characters and a near-boilerplate plot (for Hiaasen at least) doesn't exactly bode well for Skinny Dip, in which we encounter blundering (but corrupt and murderous) bad guys whose despoiling of this lovely state is just another way to make a buck. Yawn, right? Thankfully, no. Because the arc of oddness in his books has been on an upward trajectory for so long, Hiaasen must resort to painting with an ever-larger brush, using decidedly unsubtle lines like "Hammernut Farms could continue using the Everglades as a cesspit" to make sure that we don't forget we should still be really pissed off about Florida's deteriorating environment. But with such a brazen "message," Hiaasen takes Skinny Dip on a bizarro romp that's more fun than anything he's done in years. Although the comedic prospects of a deeply incompetent marine biologist might seem limited, Hiaasen milks his characters for all the unexpected action that he can, resulting in a book that's familiar but surprising.

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