325 pages. $21. Carl Hiaasen loves South Florida but hates its overdevelopment and the selling of the region's soul to tourism. As a columnist for the Miami Herald, he turns slash-and-burn against politicians, developers and anyone else he feels is responsible for turning South Florida into a spiritual vacuum of malls, condominiums, golf courses and theme parks. He continues his crusade in razor-sharp satiric detective novels, of which "Native Tongue" is his fourth.
Joe Winder is a burned-out newspaperman who, for uncomfortable reasons, must take a public relations job with the Amazing Kingdom of Thrills, a low-rent amusement park run by a low-rent guy who happens to be on the lam from the Mob. That's Francis X. Kingsbury, who makes a fortune by pandering to the lowest common denominator -- the South Florida tourist. Worse, he wants to put in yet another golf course/condo complex in what's left of the Keys' undeveloped land. Appalled by Kingsbury's sleaze -- and a few not-so-incidental murders -- Winder leads a courageous battle against the infidels.
Although "Native Tongue" wears its heart on its sleeve, it is no ideological tract but a wicked, extremely funny satire that takes prisoners on every page ("The Security Department at the Amazing Kingdom of Thrills was staffed exclusively by corrupt ex-policemen, of which there was a steady supply in South Florida"). It falters only occasionally and is consistently, deliciously enjoyable. It was simply because Kelly didn't fit in. Her parents were
sure that was why she'd tried to commit suicide. It was also why they decided to move back to Villejune, their old hometown. There, they thought, they'd be better able to keep an eye on their adopted daughter.
But Kelly hadn't attempted suicide because she didn't fit in. She did it because it was the only way she could think of to stop the Dark Man from haunting her. But now the very act that she had hoped would free her, has instead delivered her right into his arms. And he is most anxious to have her back.
With "Darkness," his 14th novel, John Saul once again has delivered a book that starts off pretending to be a horror novel, but soon reveals itself to be just another med/tech- thriller that's anything but. Although the characters are better drawn than those in his last several novels, they're not enough to carry what is ultimately just an updated derivation of the old Countess Bathory legend.
GREGORY N. KROLCZYK
Donald I. Fine/Putnam.
510 pages. $21.95.
Dale Brown, author of "Hammerheads" and "Day of the Cheetah," has written his most frightening and believable novel.
In the mid-'90s the United States, through treaties, pulls its military forces out of the Philippines. Almost as soon as the withdrawal begins China sends its navy to take over one of the islands that long had been contested by both nations. The Chinese also fire upon a Philippine oil rig and launch a tactical nuclear weapon against its enemies' forces.
The Pentagon monitors this activity and takes the information to the White House. President Lloyd Taylor must decide what response is to be given. If he answers with military force that is too great, he could start a global confrontation. If it is too weak, it could encourage further strikes against U.S. allies.
From the ceremonies turning over the U.S. bases to the Philippine government to the final showdown with the Chinese, the novel moves at a fast pace with believable characters caught up in the predicament. And the novel has one very clear message: The United States must maintain its military presence in the world out of political necessity.