Review: Naked Came the Manatee

TITLE: Naked Came the Manatee

AUTHOR: Brian Antoni, Dave Barry, Edna Buchanan, Tananarive Due, John Dufresne, James W. Hall, Vicki Hendricks, Carl Hiaasen, Carolina Hospital, Elmore Leonard, Paul Levine, Evelyn Mayorson, Les Standiford

PUBLISHER: Ballantine Books


GENRE: Humorous mystery

COST: $12.95

Off the coast of Miami, a manatee named Booger collides with a pair of would-be criminals and fouls up their delivery of a severed head that looks alarmingly like Fidel Castro. From there, however, things only get weirder, as twelve other Florida writers construct this mystery round-robin style...

This novel began its life as an experiment. Take thirteen prominent Florida writers and hire them to write a serial novel for Miami Herald's Tropic magazine. Dave Barry started it out, introducing the readers to Booger and a whole host of human characters, with chapter two written by Les Standiford. Each author in turn wrote a chapter that was meant to advance the story, and each one was published on its own, serial-style, once a week in the magazine. In its original incarnation, it was never meant to be read from start to finish like a traditionally published book, though it now can be purchased as such. So what worked -- very well, from the records -- as a serial doesn't necessarily in a different format.
While the objective of the experiment is intriguing, and certainly makes for some truly bizarre plot turns, it fails to provide a cohesive story or style to a reader who wants to read it cover to cover. There is no attempt to find a uniform voice. Instead, each author presents his/her chapter in his/her natural writing style, which means going from Dave Barry's casual humor, to Les Standiford's more action-packed, character-driven plot (he even introduces his primary protagonist John Deal), to Paul Levine's dryer, less interesting style, and so on and so on. It's not as noticeable in the beginning, but the longer it goes on, the more marked the differences get. Any sense of immersion into the story fails, and it becomes less of an escape and more of an exercise in patience.

It might not be so bad if the plot was in any way logical, but it's not. There's a definite feel of one-up-manship from chapter to chapter, as if each new author was trying to see how much more he could mess with the author coming next. I will give Carl Hiaasen high marks, however, for -- somehow -- managing to bring all the dangling plot threads from the entire book -- and man, there were a lot of them -- into a tidy knot in the final chapter, but the entire path to get there was lugubrious, rather than the so-called "wacky romp" the cover proclaims. There are too many characters to count, with seemingly new ones introduced every chapter. All of them are fair game when it comes POV, including Booger the manatee. The half-hearted attempts at humor like starting one chapter with "Call me Booger" fall flat on its face.

If the book has anything going for it, it would be how vividly everything about Florida is portrayed. I don't know if that was one of the original requirements of the serial (Bring Florida to life) or just symptomatic of the fact that all thirteen authors specialize in Florida milieus. It does bring an edge of verisimilitude to the work, even when I was struggling to keep the cast of characters straight.

So if you want to virtually escape to Florida to winter, don't do it through this book. Pick one of the authors and read one of their solo titles. Carl Hiaasen, for instance. His entire career is based on this kind of madcap mystery, but his books actually succeed in being both entertaining and smart. Sadly, those are two characteristics which this offering sorely lacks.


Too bad it didn't work as a cohesive was a cool idea. I would love to see Chicago writers do this with a Windy City setting! Sounds like it would need someone to give it a stronger framework for the writers to work in, and who knows if they would be willing to do that.

Is it worth reading as individual pieces? Or are they too dependent on each other, plot-wise?

Yeah, it sounds like a cool concept, but it also sounds like the writers may have gotten a little too competitive with one another to see how "wacky" they could get.

Quote Originally posted by Zuul View post
Yeah, it sounds like a cool concept, but it also sounds like the writers may have gotten a little too competitive with one another to see how "wacky" they could get.
Yeah, that's the thing. If the writers are dedicated to making it work as a cohesive story, then it could really work. Maybe egos got in the way.

Quote Originally posted by Sarahfeena View post
Is it worth reading as individual pieces? Or are they too dependent on each other, plot-wise?
It would depend on your purpose for reading them individually, I think. To get a taste of an author's style, absolutely. It provides the same sort of introduction that most anthologies do. To be able to appreciate each individually? Maybe not so much. There were a lot of characters in this, some who'd show up for a chapter, then disappear for a few, only to be brought back later by another author but since so many might have been introduced in between, it invariably meant flipping back through to figure out who it was again.

That being said, a couple authors actually managed to make their chapters a little more self-contained than the others. Excluding Dave Barry's chapter (since he was first and didn't have to worry about trying to fit in with anybody else), James W. Hall's chapter, "The Old Woman and the Sea," is the best example of that, by focusing mostly on Marion - the 102 y/o environmentalist - with a cutaway in the middle that actually fit in with the Marion stuff. Only trouble is, his chapter is 5th, and isn't worth the price of the book. Though, you could always check it out of the library, lol.

Yeah, it definitely sounds like a library read vs. a purchase read! Thanks for the extra feedback on it!