Review: Native Tongue by Carl Hiassen

Native Tongue opens with one of those only-in-America scenes in which a holidaying family is driving along a Florida highway in Key Largo when a rat-like creature lands in their car. After screeching to a stop and leaping from the vehicle the family are trying to work out how to get the thing from under a car seat when a helpful Trooper arrives on-scene and shoots the thing. Three times. Comedic crime fiction book reviews are probably not the place to ponder the state of America’s gun-mad culture so I won’t go there but it would be dishonest of me not to admit I considered stopping the book at that point (and yes I do know it’s a comedy). I did listen on though and enjoyed the tale which followed in which we soon learned that the rat-like creature was an endangered species which had been stolen to order from The Amazing Kingdom of Thrills, a family entertainment park owned by Francis X Kingsbury. The theft starts off a chain of events which incorporates several more shootings, an explosion, the development of an unlikely friendship and a couple of human deaths caused by animals, including a sexually frustrated one, that’ll leave you chuckling at the animal kingdom getting its own back.

I have only read a couple of Carl Hiassen novels but even so I can discern the commonalities. They mostly take place in Florida, they are of the caper/satire variety and they tackle environmental themes. In those respects Native Tongue is no different to the others but there are surprises-a-plenty in the small details of this book. It is in the deft and delightful characterisations and the genuinely funny writing that this book’s enjoyment is to be found.

The characters include Joe Winder, a former journalist who has been forced by circumstances and much to his chagrin, to become a PR man for the seedy theme park. Early on Joe Winder starts to think something fishy about the story he’s being asked to write press releases about versus the things he knows to be true. His girlfriend, who writes erotic scenarios (and poetry) to be used on the phone sex line she works for, thinks Joe Winder should concentrate on just being a PR man and forget his journalistic training but Joe Winder can’t help but get involved. Another gem of a character is Molly McNamara, the environmental activist and grandma who is not afraid to break the law to achieve her aim of stopping more development in the area, though she shoots people who use curse words or take a prescription drug that isn’t theirs so she’s got an odd set of morals. My favourite character though might be Pedro Luz, the steroid over-dosing, crooked, ex-cop who is in charge of security at The Amazing Kingdom of Thrills. His descent into a version of madness is hysterical.

There’s some clever satire in the novel too, with my favourite example coming towards the end when Joe Winder no longer works for the theme park (no that really isn’t a spoiler) and he goes into a battle of press releases against the park’s own PR man. For anyone who has ever had to write, or read, the spin that is a modern press releases, or anyone who’s ever wanted to take some non-violent revenge on a former employer this sequence of events is brilliant (if entirely implausible).

I did think the book too long (repetitive in parts) and I found the use of all the characters’ full name every time they were mentioned utterly annoying. I suspect this is much more noticeable in audio than it would be in print and I could discern no reason for it other than to be annoying. However, these are relatively minor quibbles in what is otherwise a genuinely funny romp with several outstanding moments and a not-so-gentle environmental message to boot. The audio book is very-well narrated by George Wilson.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
My rating 3/5
Author website
Narrator George Wilson
Publisher Recorded Books [this edition 2008, original edition 1991]
ISBN N/A (downloaded from
Length 15 hours 47 minutes
Format audio (mp3)
Book Series standalone
Source I bought it

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8 Responses to Review: Native Tongue by Carl Hiassen

  1. Maxine says:

    I’ve never managed to summon up the enthusiasm to read one of his books – I was given one years ago by someone who really liked Tom Sharpe (whose first couple of books I thought very funny but after that it was all variations on the same joke-set). I can see from your review that there are things to enjoy, but comic crime has never really appealed to me and there are always so many books to read…..


  2. Margot Kinberg says:

    Bernadette – An excellent review, as ever. I like Carl Hiaasen’s work, so I know exactly what you mean about the commonalities among his novels. I admit I haven’t read this particular one, but it does sound like a funny read. And please, oh please don’t get me started on the whole U.S. gun thing. I will just say that not all of us are gun-mad…


  3. Kathy D. says:

    It sounds like fun as are Hiassen’s books, eco-comedy. I read one and mean to read more as I loved the humor, and who doesn’t need laughs these days? And to come with environmental issues is a bonus.
    Hiassen can be serious, too. He has written good, substantive articles in Florida newspapers on social issues.
    I will add this to my summer TBR list; it’s appropriate for that time of relaxation.


  4. Maxine says:

    hi Bernadette, off topic, sorry, but I cannot get Fair Dinkum today, I get 404 if I try via web search, or via my or your blogroll. Prob to do with the resetting you mentioned yesterday but just letting you know.


  5. Kathy D. says:

    I can’t get Fair Dinkum either. I clicked on the link on your former website and I got a Google message that it’s not on that server.


  6. Pingback: Books of the Month – May 2011 | Reactions to Reading

  7. Kathy D. says:

    I finally got to Fair Dinkum but via MIP, the same way I reach Friend Feed (Don’t ask me why; I just google, read and blog). So that was okay.
    However, I wrote a rave review agreeing with your rave review of Gunshot Road, adding a few of my accolades, and then I tried to post the comment. Then I got this message: 403 Forbidden
    I tried it a few times. Kept happening.
    I’m not a computer wiz, and I can’t figure this out. Any ideas?


    • Not sure Kathy, I’ve had other comments get through. I’ll test it tomorrow (am computer-less at home at the moment and using my mobile phone which I can’t access everything on)


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