This is the first book for young adults in which Skink, the anti-hero of many of Hiaasen’s adult novels, appears. Environmental campaigner, dispenser of rough justice, former governor of the state of Florida – this shambolic, charismatic figure comes to Richard’s aid when his wayward cousin Malley runs away with a dubious internet chatroom boyfriend and, as her only ally, he must find and rescue her from her wilful and dangerous mistake. The book is built around the thread of the chase and Malley’s eventual rescue, but woven through are Skink’s improbable plans, his propensity for self-sacrifice in the name of what he feels to be right and his engagingly surreal appearance – the ever-present flowered shower cap, the snail shell covering his empty eye-socket, the collection of buzzard beaks tied onto his beard.
Richard’s involvement in this wild adventure, his eventual closeness to Skink and his unshakeable belief in his wisdom, morality and invulnerability help him to come to terms with the death of his father and to understand that life provides answers to the most improbable questions.
The only flaw in this roller-coaster of a book is the way that Malley’s kidnap is brushed off, with no real exploration of the mental and emotional damage she had clearly endured. Whilst her kidnap sends out a clear warning to teenage chatroom users the consequences eventually become absorbed by the rough and tumble of the adventure.