Monday, July 16, 2012

Swamp Romp: Chomp! by Carl Hiaasen

"Go for it" the director told him. "We're rolling."

"'Kay, mate." Derek Badger slipped up to his neck into the water, careful not to muss his hair.

"Soon the sun will be setting over the Everglades, and I find myself in a perilous predicament. I must now swim across this deep, murky pond to reach dry ground," he intones.

A swelling appeared in the glassy pool--Alice, fourteen feet of alligator, rising to take a breath, the black scales on her broad back glistening like barnacles. She was as wide as a railroad track.

Derek purposely positioned himself to intercept her. Somehow he wound up on her back. "Woo-hoo!" he hollered idiotically.

Derek managed to hang on for three full revolutions before being launched airborne. Alice was still twirling violently when he splashed down. He happened to reenter on the biting end of Alice.

In debt after an enforced layoff caused by a concussion from a frozen iguana felled from its tree by a sudden Florida freeze, veteran animal wrangler Mickey Cray, whose specialty is staged television "adventure" shows, needs cash in the worse way. In desperation Mickey and son Wahoo sign on as wildlife wranglers for Expedition Survival, starring the reality show's pudgy leading ham, Derek Badger. After the 'gator fiasco in his own movie-set lagoon, Mickey soon sees that the most dangerous animal he'll be wrangling is the dim-bulb star himself, whom he christens "Dork Beaver." Having rescued Derek from his tame and well-fed Alice already, Mickey is not happy with his job description. His sensible teenaged son Wahoo quickly sees that his job will be wrangling his quirky and fearless father, who is determined that "Dork" is not going to create havoc among his beloved "Glades critters.

In a WalMart parking lot along the way the Crays add to the wrangling staff a small teenaged girl, Tuna, a runaway with a shiner provided by her crazed, drunken dad, and young Wahoo, seemingly the only rational member of the company, has his hands full.

The first day finds the spray-tanned star reckless grabbing a five-foot water snake for his trademark survival dinner and getting himself thoroughly chomped. The rest of the wildlife wisely make themselves scarce, until a confused bat makes a crash landing in Derek's blueberry cheesecake. Derek calls for cameras to roll as he snatches up the stunned bat and lowers it headfirst into his mouth as his de rigeur survival supper du jour. Not surprisingly, the bat objects and latches its tiny teeth in Derek's tongue and hangs on while the star, temporarily silenced by a mouthful of flying mammal, thrashes around the campfire. Again Mickey has to perform a daring rescue.

Derek, certain that he's been bitten by a vampire bat and doomed to become a vampire himself like the hero of his favorite "Night Wings" flicks, flees into the Everglades forest.

And that's just the beginning of Carl Hiaasen's latest eco-adventure, Chomp (Alfred A. Knopf, 2012). Add to this swampy Hiaasen cast of colorful south Florida characters, Tuna's enraged, pistol-waving, and still drunken father, who tracks the crew down, takes Mickey hostage, steals an airboat and shooting his captive in the foot for control, orders him to find his wayward daughter, hiding with Wahoo somewhere in the Everglades. All of the above are soon pursued by an extremely annoyed 'Gladesman who wants his hijacked hand-built airboat back, assorted local police, Federal rangers from the local Miccosuki Indian Reservation, and the U.S. Coast Guard, and you've got one of Hiaasen's hilarious walks on the wild side, with a gratis side excursion into Everglades ecology.

Fans of Carl Hiaasen's Newbery-winning Hoot and best-selling companion books Flush and Scat should not miss this drop-dead-funny page turner of a chomp romp. "Humorous adventure tales just don’t get any more wacked…or fun to read than this," says Kirkus in their, er, biting and incisive review.

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