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When the publisher states that "Strip Tease" is "the kind of novel Carl Hiaasen does better than anyone else writing today," the translation is as follows: "The author, a Miami Herald columnist, is the current master of the potboiler."
What isn't in doubt is that Mr. Hiaasen's fourth opus — his previous effort was a best-seller — has all the action, violence and prurient interest of a run-of-the-mill, made-for-TV movie.
The plot revolves around the misadventures of an unbelievably depraved U.S. congressman, David Dilbeck, who falls hard for Erin Grant, a stripper with a heart of gold who is valiantly battling her drugged-out, wheelchair-stealing ex-husband for custody of their daughter.
After the dishonorable Mr. Dilbeck, blind with liquor and lust, stumbles into a compromising situation on stage with Ms. Grant, a cover-up ensues that makes Watergate pale by comparison. Dastardly deeds are committed to keep Rep. Dilbeck, who chairs a key agricultural committee, in his seat and in the pocket of local sugar interests. The congressman is so out of the loop that he isn't aware of the extremes to which his handlers and the sugar daddies go to keep him scandal-free.
The plot, like much else in this book, is patently incredible. Why would the sugar magnates bankroll mayhem to save dissipative Dilbeck when it is clear (at least from the author's perspective) that public officials are a dime a dozen, if not cheaper? Let him sink. Buy another one (which is what happens in the end anyway). The only other public figure of note is a Bible-beating judge who masturbates in public while frequenting Erin Grant's strip joint, the Eager Beaver. And you thought television was bad!
Of course, Mr. Hiaasen may not intend for much of his book to be taken literally — or literarily, for that matter. Fair enough, but this satire and humor are about as subtle as full-frontal nudity at high noon on a cloudless day. When one of the bad guys is being dispatched with a nine iron, he can't cry for help: "His face [is] a divot."
If you are offended, or simply not impressed by crude language, sadism, a snake that bites a vital human organ, plus recurring cologne jokes, all in the cause of a work with scant redeeming value, this may not be the novel for you.
If the book were a stripper, its audience would be tempted to yell, "Keep it on, keep it all on!"