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Onyx reviews: Star Island by Carl Hiaasen

Making fun of Cherry Pye (nee Cheryl Bunterman) is like shooting fish in a barrel. She's a twenty-two year old, tone-deaf, dim-witted, nymphomaniac lip-syncing "pop singer" who is famous for being famous and for a stunning number of trips to rehab. When she's indisposed but needs to keep up a public profile, a look-alike named Ann DeLusia takes her place at night clubs, wearing sunglasses to hide the fact that her eyes are a different color than Cherry Pye's. Cherry doesn't know Ann exists. She doesn't read, so she rarely sees articles covering events she didn't attend, and when she does she simply assumes she was too smashed to remember.

Paparazzo Bang Abbot, has made Cherry Pye his personal mission. The obese Pulitzer Prize winning photographer (though there's reasonable suspicion that the events that led to his award were staged) figures she's going to self-destruct during her putative come-back tour for her new CD "Skantily Klad" and, once she's dead, a photo-essay will be extremely valuable. It would mean that Abbott no longer has to hide up trees, in bushes and outside nightclubs waiting for celebrities to show up. Abbott has a posse of tipsters who exchange information for cash, but he's willing to give that all up for his own fifteen minutes of fame...and fortune.

Star Island features a veritable circus of characters. Cherry Pye is just the lead clown. Her latest bodyguard is a tall (but don't ask him if he played basketball) former mortgage broker ex-con murderer named Chemo (from Hiaasen's earlier novel, Skin Tight) with a waffle face from a freak electrolysis treatment who lost his hand to a barracuda, replacing it with a prosthetic equipped with a weed whacker. As a pastime, he uses a cattle prod to encourage Cherry to improve her Valley Girl vocabulary. There's a one-eyed former Florida governor named Skink (a semi-regular in Hiaasen's novels) who disappeared while in office and became a swamp-dwelling recluse and an environmental activist slash eco-terrorist. There's a pair of fraternal twin publicists who underwent plastic surgery to turn themselves into identical twins (and, in doing so, destroyed their ability to display facial expressions). There's the feuding stage mom and dad (the mother is oblivious to her daughter's flaws, the father simply chooses to ignore them so long as the money keeps pouring in). A manager/promoter savvy enough to turn a talentless moron into a money machine. And the obligatory sleazy Florida real estate broker who has duped a bevy of investors out of millions. To beef up the eccentric cast, Hiaasen drops the names of celebrities like Lindsay Lohan, the Kardashians, Meghan Fox and Fergie, giving them absurd things to do that are only mildly more audacious than their real escapades.

In fact, there are so many quirky characters in South Beach that it's hard to find one for readers to identify with. The most normal character is stand-in Ann DeLusia, an aspiring actress who accepted the gig for a regular paycheck, but she's not on-stage often enough to make a reliable reader avatar and, when she is, she's often being asked to do something embarrassing (like getting a henna tattoo of Axl Rose and a zebra on her neck to mimic the one Cherry Pye gets while drunk). Of course, one doesn't come to a Carl Hiaasen novel expecting normal people doing normal things, but it would be helpful if there was some degree of normalcy to identify with instead of wall-to-wall insanity.

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