Native Tongue is a novel by Carl Hiaasen, published in 1991. Like all his novels, it is set in Florida. The themes of the novel include corruption, environmentalism, exploitation of endangered species, and animal rights.
|Publisher||Alfred A. Knopf|
|Media type||Print (hard and paperback)|
|LC Class||PS3558.I217 N38 1991|
Joe Winder, a former investigative reporter, now works for the public relations department of the Amazing Kingdom of Thrills, a theme park located on North Key Largo, Florida. Joe's dulled investigative instincts are roused by the theft of two endangered "Blue Tongued Mango Voles" from the park's rare animal pavilion. Winder's boss, Charles Chelsea, discourages him from looking into the theft, but Joe secretly questions Dr. Will Koocher, the young biologist hired to supervise the captive breeding of the voles.
The Amazing Kingdom's founder and owner is Francis X. Kingsbury, or "Frankie King", a convicted racketeer who relocated to Florida under the Witness Protection Program after testifying against several mid-level members of John Gotti's crime family. Having discovered a previously unknown talent for selling real estate, Frankie has become very wealthy after building the Kingdom. His next project is to build Falcon Trace, an enormous golf course and vacation resort near the park, blatantly ignoring the proximity of a federal wildlife preserve.
The theft of the voles was commissioned by Molly McNamara, the elderly founder of a small environmentalist group called the Mothers of Wilderness. Unfortunately, the two burglars she hired, Bud Schwartz and Danny Pogue, carelessly kill both voles during the getaway. Furious, Molly gives both of the burglars non-fatal gunshot wounds and forcibly recruits them into the group. Meanwhile, Joe, who opposes Falcon Trace, keeps investigating the theft of the voles. The day after Will disappears, the Kingdom's trained orca suddenly dies. During the autopsy, Will's dead body is found lodged in the whale's throat. Joe refuses to let go of his suspicions of foul play, and the Kingdom's security chief, Pedro Luz, catches him searching Will's office for clues.
Charlie decides to fire Joe, but not before Joe reveals he's uncovered the motive for Will's murder: a bottle of blue food coloring hidden in the vole lab, meaning Will had discovered that the "endangered" voles were fake and was silenced before he could expose the hoax. Meanwhile, Molly sends Bud and Danny to burglarize Frankie's office at the Kingdom, looking for proof of illegal activities connected with Falcon Trace. Among Frankie's private files, Bud finds news clippings and correspondence showing his true identity as a former mafioso.
Unknown to Molly, he and Danny approach Frankie and blackmail him for the return of the files. Frightened of the mob's retaliation, Frankie promises them a large sum. Bud and Danny are elated, but return to Molly's condominium to find her savagely beaten - Frankie sent Pedro to give her "a warning" after her group picketed the opening ceremony of Falcon Trace. Joe's girlfriend Nina leaves him after he loses his job, but he finds allies in Carrie Lanier, an actress who plays one of the Kingdom's animal characters, and "Skink", who lives wild in the Key Largo woods. Both men agree that the law can do little to punish Frankie for Will's murder.
Joe sabotages equipment at the Falcon Trace construction site and, with Carrie's encouragement, issues phony press releases about disease outbreaks and poisonous snakes at the park. Charlie counters each of these releases, while Pedro unsuccessfully tries to kill Joe. Under Skink's guidance, Joe and Carrie also meet and compare notes with Molly, Bud, and Danny, leading Joe to learn of Frankie's true identity. When Bud and Danny appear to exchange Francis's files for their blackmail money, Pedro and one of his security guards try to kill them instead. The burglars escape, and an enraged Bud tracks down a mid-ranking Gotti associate to inform him of Frankie's whereabouts. A mob hit man is sent down, but his shot accidentally wounds the golf pro standing next to Frankie.
Disguised in Carrie's animal costume, Joe enters the park and, with Bud and Danny's help, confronts Frankie in his office. Joe offers him a graceful way out of his troubles, giving him a press release announcing that he will cancel Falcon Trace for environmentally conscious reasons. Joe reminds Frankie that he obtained the permits for Falcon Trace using a false name, and that his exposure will doom both the park and the development while putting Frankie in violation of his probation for defrauding the government and hiring convicted felons as security guards. As Frankie considers taking Joe's offer, Pedro bursts in, disarms Joe, and marches him out of the office. Frankie orders him killed. Skink rescues Joe from a brutal beating and pitches Pedro into the whale tank, where he drowns while being raped by a bottlenose dolphin.
Skink rejects Joe's subtle approach in favor of burning the Kingdom down. After the two men watch Carrie's first and last performance as the star of the Kingdom's Jubilee parade, Skink trips the park's fire alarm and causes the tourists and employees to flee. As Frankie tries in vain to find his security detail, he is shot dead in his office by the hit man, posing as a tourist. Joe and Carrie escape the burning park on foot while Molly, Danny, and Bud watch the proceedings the television in her hospital room. In the epilogue, Falcon Trace is acquired by outside investors with plans to continue the development, but the project is halted when the Mothers of Wilderness report a sighting of two more of the presumed-extinct voles in the nearby woods. The land, and the remains of the Amazing Kingdom, are replanted and eventually incorporated into the nearby nature preserve.