|Cover artist||Ross McDonald|
|Publisher||Alfred A. Knopf|
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
|LC Class||PS3558.I217 S53 2000|
|Preceded by||Lucky You|
|Followed by||Basket Case|
Florida's vapid, corrupt Governor, Richard "Dick" Artemus, has no agenda beyond unquestioning obedience to the whims of his major campaign contributors. One of these contributors, a former drug smuggler-turned-real-estate-developer, Robert Clapley, plans to bulldoze the small Toad Island and remake it into "Shearwater Island," with high rise condominiums and golf courses. The project requires the construction of a massive new bridge to the mainland, to accommodate Clapley's cement trucks. On Artemus's recommendation, Clapley hires Palmer Stoat, a lobbyist, to expedite the government funding for the bridge construction.
By random happenstance, Stoat becomes subject to the wrath of Twilly Spree, an independent ecoterrorist. Spree obsessively pursues Stoat after watching him litter the highway from his luxury Range Rover, and tracks him back to his Fort Lauderdale residence where he and his wife, Desirata, live.
Twilly begins by arranging ironic pranks - hijacking a garbage truck and dumping its load into Desirata's open convertible, and filling Stoat's Range Rover with dung beetles - but is aggravated when the "unfathomably arrogant" Stoat fails to get the point, and continues to litter. When Twilly breaks into Stoat's home, he is followed out by Stoat's massive Labrador Retriever, "Boodle", and then by Desirata herself. "Desi", who is increasingly unhappy with her marriage, tells Twilly that he is "aiming low" if he is trying to correct Stoat's misbehavior. She guides him to Toad Island, the site of Stoat's latest "fix," and Twilly becomes vehemently opposed to the despoiling of the island. Even Desi is appalled to see that Clapley's construction crew deliberately buried thousands of oak toads (the island's namesake) to avoid later protest by environmentalists.
Twilly orders Desi to return to Stoat and tell him that Twilly will murder Stoat's beloved dog if he doesn't kill the bridge project. At first, Stoat doesn't take the threat seriously, until Twilly sends him a Labrador's severed ear via FedEx (actually sliced from the corpse of a roadkill Labrador Twilly found). The dog becomes Twilly's companion, after he changes his name to "McGuinn."
Stoat convinces Governor Artemus to veto the funding for the bridge, though he has no intention of letting the project fail. He tells Artemus and Clapley that the funding can be re-inserted into the budget later, through a special session of the Legislature, once the "dog-napper" releases Boodle. Clapley is unconvinced, and sends a hit man, Mr. Gash, to track down Twilly and kill him.
Artemus, in an effort to avoid the Shearwater Project being tainted with violent death, seeks out and locates ex-governor Clinton Tyree, a.k.a. "Skink", who vanished in the mid-1970s after a short and unsuccessful (but honest) term of office and is said to be hiding out somewhere in the remaining wilderness of Florida. Artemus knows Skink will be unsympathetic to his situation, and resorts to blackmail: Skink's mentally disturbed elder brother, Doyle, is still on the state's payroll as the keeper of a lighthouse that has not been in use for years. Artemus warns Skink that his brother will be tossed out on the street if Skink doesn't apprehend Twilly. Artemus fails to realize the dire consequences of threatening a man with Skink's volcanic temper, or of putting him and Twilly in contact with each other.
Desi becomes attracted to Twilly, and the two eventually develop a relationship. Stoat is disgusted and washes his hands of her and Boodle, telling Twilly that the bridge is going up no matter what Twilly does.
After a violent confrontation on Toad Island involving Twilly, Desi, Skink, and Mr. Gash, Mr. Gash is left mortally wounded on the island, and Twilly is left in Skink's care while Desi returns to her parents' home in Atlanta. Despite her pleadings, Twilly is still committed to stopping the Shearwater Island project.
Accompanied by Skink, Twilly trails Stoat, Clapley, and Artemus to a private canned hunting reserve in northern Florida, where Stoat has arranged for Clapley to shoot a black rhinoceros, and also win over Willie Vasquez-Washington, a crucial member of the Florida House who is opposed to the special session.
Twilly is on the verge of shooting Clapley with a rifle, but then Boodle/McGuinn runs into the preserve and nips playfully at the rhino's tail. The rhino - so ancient that it has hardly moved since it arrived at the ranch - goes berserk and charges at the hunting party. Clapley is gored to death on the rhino's horn, and Stoat is trampled flat. The governor escapes the chaos, but is mortified to learn that Willie snapped plenty of pictures.
Clapley's death leaves the Shearwater project doomed without financial backing and, apart from his many lobbying clients and crony politicians, only a few friends and family members show up at Palmer Stoat's funeral. Desi is among the mourners, during which she is approached by McGuinn, holding a note with Twilly's new address on it.
Meanwhile, Twilly Spree and Clinton Tyree are driving along the highway towards Tyree's wilderness when they see another group of litterbugs throwing lighted cigarette butts, empty bottles and other rubbish out of their speeding car. They immediately agree they have to teach them a lesson.
Although some of the themes of the novel may suggest an autobiographical element the author himself shrugs off at least one aspect of this parallel. A main character Twilly and himself both had attorney forebears who lived in Southern Florida, but the development in this area came as a surprise to him and his attorney father and grandfather.
Sick Puppy has been reviewed well and one example describes Hiaasen's skills thus.
Hiaasen is best known for serving up heaping helpings of just desserts [sic]. His bad guys are the baddest, and his good guys are anything but the Dudley Dorights of popular fiction. How does Hiaasen come up with his new means of doling out justice to the terminally greedy? Just when you think, "they'll never get out of this mess," he devises a plan, and they're off and running.
Other reviews praised the novel's harder edges.
Sick Puppy is ultimately as unforgiving as nature's order. The characters are not likeable. There is no redemption or apology. But that's Hiaasen's design. In the end, we are treated to one of his favorite devices, the epilogue with thumbnail descriptions of the fates of many of his characters. Some of the scoundrels prosper, some don't. There's the sense that there is more work to be done. Sure, Hiaasen himself may not be ready to kidnap the dogs of unregenerate litterbugs or clobber drunken jet skiers, but it's the thought that counts.
Carl Hiaasen is South Florida's literary proctologist: he examines the region's assholes. The rapacious villains of Hiaasen's crime novels do not just commit murder, extortion, assault, fraud, and every conceivable variety of larceny; they also park in handicapped spaces, cheat on their trophy wives, tell racist jokes, flaunt their wealth in unusually obnoxious ways, and mangle the lyrics to good rock-and-roll songs. They do not just do bad things, like steal wheelchairs, shoot cops, and scam retirees; they are bad people, "maggots," "vermin," "cretins," "sleazeballs," "sewer scum," "reprobates," "whorehoppers." They care more about their golf games than their families, and more about money than anything else on earth. They drive Range Rovers with "COJONES" on their vanity plates. They don't listen and they don't learn.