American author Carl Hiaasen is one of those rare writers who can turn out exciting and classy novels for teenagers as well as for adults. He already had a good reputation as a thriller writer when he made the transition to young adult fiction with great success in 2002.
His latest, Scat, is a cleverly plotted nail-biter that won't disappoint any of his avid readers, no matter their age.
Hiaasen's adult fiction often reflects his concerns about what is happening to his home state of Florida in the United States. His novels are sometimes labelled 'environmental thrillers' and shelved in the mystery section of the bookshop.
Scat, too, falls into this category.
Scat opens with an intriguing mystery, one many students often dream will happen: a teacher goes missing. Mrs Starch is the most feared and reviled teacher at Nick Waters' school. Her biology lessons provide hours of misery and humiliation for students who are unlucky enough to come her way. The opening chapter is set in one of Mrs Starch's lessons and reveals just what a writer Hiaasen is. The students, Mrs Starch and the atmosphere in the lesson jump off the page.
During a biology field trip to Black Vine Swamp, a sudden wild-fire breaks out and the students have to return to school. Mrs Starch goes back into the swamp to get something that a student has left behind, and promptly vanishes. The students return to school without her, and to their surprise Mrs Starch does not turn up the next day.
Nick and his friend Marta don't believe the official notice that Mrs Starch is absent from her job because of family reasons. Mrs Starch has no family. There is more to the fire in the swamp and the teacher's disappearance than anyone is admitting. Nick and Marta decide to investigate for themselves.
The two friends soon find themselves involved in an adventure involving a mysterious eco-warrior, stuffed animals of all shapes and sizes, an evil Texas oilman, an eccentric substitute teacher and a Florida panther that has lost her cub. And while all this is going on, there is the Florida ecology and natural environment to explore.
Besides its eco-thriller theme, Scat gets down to a personal level with the moving relationship between Nick and his father, who has returned home seriously injured from the war in Iraq. Hiaasen's focus on the relationship is very real and moving, making Scat an even more involving and thrilling read.
Hiaasen fans will love this book and newcomers will be hooked by this entertaining thriller.
John Millen can be contacted on [email protected]