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Scat

Review

Scat

I have a confession to make: I've never cared overly much for Carl Hiaasen's popular comic mysteries for adults. Fortunately, as a reviewer of middle-grade and young adult fiction, I've been lucky enough to discover a whole new side of his body of work --- his stand-alone mysteries for younger readers. For some reason, Hiaasen's brand of humor seems especially well-suited to children's novels, and with titles like HOOT (recently a feature film) and FLUSH, his Florida-based novels have reached a whole new generation of fans (not to mention adult reviewers like myself). Now, in SCAT, Hiaasen successfully continues many of the themes introduced in his earlier books for young readers. 

SCAT is set in Naples, Florida, on the edge of the Florida Everglades. Nick and Marta aren't too sure what to expect when their hard-nosed biology teacher, Mrs. Bunny Starch, takes the class on a field trip to the Black Vine Swamp. Things get even weirder than the kids had imagined when a wildfire breaks out nearby and Mrs. Starch fails to return to school following the truncated field trip. The school's principal believes that Mrs. Starch is just taking a leave of absence, but Nick and Marta know better --- there's no way that super-dedicated Mrs. Starch would ever let a substitute take over her class for days at a time, especially one as weird and incompetent as Wendell Waxmo. 

The class's field trip came on the heels of a nasty confrontation between Mrs. Starch and class bad boy Duane Scrod Jr. Could Mrs. Starch's public humiliation of Duane have caused him to take revenge? Worse, Duane's nickname is "Smoke," supposedly gained after a previous history of arson. Could he have been responsible for both the arson wildfire and the teacher's sudden disappearance? 

While Nick and Marta try to figure out the mysteries surrounding their biology teacher, larger --- and more sinister --- forces are at work in the Everglades swamp. An unscrupulous oil company is trying to figure out ways around environmental drilling restrictions, and they're finding their efforts frustrated by eco-avenger Twilly Spree (a character who Hiaasen's adult fans will remember from SICK PUPPY). Nick is also dealing with his father's return home from the war in Iraq, minus his right arm. 

These tie-ins to current events --- oil drilling, the war in Iraq, endangered species and environmental wetlands protection --- give SCAT a contemporary, relevant feel. If it sounds like the book is a big downer, however, think again. The inclusion of plenty of comic details, not to mention a full supporting cast of wacky secondary characters, place it firmly in the "comic mystery" category. Much as with the hugely popular HOOT book and movie, SCAT should appeal to fans of humorous fiction, compelling mysteries and environmental issues alike. 

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on January 27, 2009

Scat
by Carl Hiaasen

  • Publication Date: April 27, 2010
  • Genres: Mystery
  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
  • ISBN-10: 0375834877
  • ISBN-13: 9780375834875