— By Nora Fitzgerald
One day in the Florida Keys an unlucky soul was rear-ended by a woman with her skirt up around her waist using a razor to groom her, you know, bikini area. This minor news item inspired Carl Hiassen’s newest novel, Razor Girl (Alfred A. Knopf).
The resulting book has about as much depth as that newspaper article must have had. But Hiassen’s books sell well, surely because what they lack in depth they make up for in breadth. Razor Girl is as shallow and pleasing as a long stretch of white sand and blue water Florida beach at low tide, with plenty of colorful characters, settings, and no end of pop-culture references.
The novel is a comic tale of mystery in southern Florida, primarily Key West, with multiple storylines that snake around the islands. You might need a razor yourself to cut through the tangle to find a main narrative, and you’ll come to Andrew Yancy, a recurring character in Hiassen’s books. He was a police detective but has been demoted to the job of health inspector. He’s not supposed to, but he’s poking around a mystery involving the disappearance of Buck Nance, the star of a Duck Dynasty-style cable show.
Like many a disgraced detective of novel, television, and film, Yancy is the only person who takes a calm, sensible approach to the investigation in the hysteria of a celebrity scandal. He’s eventually joined by Razor Girl, although not romantically initially. Yancy has a hot, Latina doctor girlfriend, Rosa, who has abruptly left for Norway, leaving him wondering if he’s been dumped. The fact that Yancy can resist the sexual charms of Razor Girl attests to his superior character in this novel. He is its moral compass you might say, if indeed it makes any sense to look for such a thing here.
The success of the book depends less on a cohesive, compelling story (actually, it doesn’t depend on that at all) than on crisp and efficient narrative, and dialogue composed almost completely of clever quips and snappy comebacks. Also, the characters have identities clearly established in popular culture, which makes it easier on readers, who don’t have to think too hard about what they’re reading.
Actually this is only true of the men. Among them we find the self-centered television star, the weaselly Hollywood agent and the powerful Hollywood agent. There are mafia types and their goons and the businessman they are shaking down. There is an oily class-action suit TV lawyer and some high-end restaurant owners. None of them are particularly likable. They are all somewhat clownish.
For the most part the women are sexually desirable and available and not too much else. It doesn’t matter if a woman is a prostitute or only identified as someone’s wife or girlfriend—they are available for sex. They initiate it. Some spontaneously take their clothes off in the presence of Yancy.
The exception is Razor Girl (Merry Mansfield is her (fake) name), with whom Yancy becomes progressively intimate through the book as he struggles over his relationship with the absent Rosa. He is a stand-up dude and doesn’t initially succumb to Merry’s playful advances. But Merry transforms slowly through the novel from her original character as an amoral, wisecracking gal. She gains Yancy’s integrity and shares in his powers so that when they come together at the end of the book it is to finally resolve the Buck Nance kidnapping.
It could be assumed that she has gained the status of Girlfriend and will be in the next Andrew Yancy novel. But will she, like Rosa, be exiled so that another can be brought in? That seems likely. There were references to an earlier girlfriend, before Rosa, who torched the house next door and ran off. It’s too bad if she has to go, because Razor Girl was becoming an actual, fleshed-out character.