Star Island (novel)
|Publisher||Alfred A. Knopf|
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
|Preceded by||Nature Girl|
|Followed by||Bad Monkey|
Ann DeLusia, the "stunt double" for habitually intoxicated and drug-addicted pop star "Cherry Pye", is mistakenly kidnapped by an obsessed paparazzo. Now, the star's entourage must find a way to rescue Ann, and do it without revealing her identity to the star herself, or the world at large.
The novel also features the re-appearance of Hiaasen's recurring character, ex-Florida governor Clinton "Skink" Tyree.
Detailed Plot Summary
Paparazzo "Bang" Abbott is lying in wait outside a posh South Beach hotel, on a tip that pop star "Cherry Pye" has overdosed again. However, when the paramedics bring a woman down to the ambulance, she flashes him a smile from underneath the oxygen mask and he sees, from the color of her eyes, that she is a body double. Meanwhile, the real Cherry is being driven to the nearest hospital in a private limousine by her entourage (having ingested "an unwise mix of vodka, Red Bull, hydrocodone, birdseed, and stool softener".)
The body double is Ann DeLusia, an actress hired by Cherry's family to make brief public appearances when Cherry is too inebriated to do so. Cherry's mother/manager), Janet Bunterman, tells Ann to take a few days off, while Cherry is packed off, yet again, to "dietary camp" (i.e., drug rehab). Cherry's entourage usually turns a blind eye to her "partying", but need her focused on rehearsing for her upcoming concert tour to promote her second attempt at a comeback album.
Like many media watchers, Abbott believes it is only a matter of time before Cherry accidentally kills herself with her excessive lifestyle; unlike others, he believes that once she's dead, photos of her just before her final "crash" will become priceless. Infuriated at having been fooled by a body double, he becomes even more obsessed with getting photos of Cherry under sordid circumstances.
In Los Angeles, Cherry jumps over the wall of the rehab center, with the sole intention of returning to Florida to resume her "relationship" with the young actor she was with when she overdosed. Her focus is so limited that she hitches a ride to the airport in a car waiting outside the center, before realizing the driver, Abbott, is a paparazzo. Feeling absurdly pleased by his transparent flattery, Cherry takes him along when she charters a private jet to Florida. Aboard the plane, Abbott is astonished when she decides to have an onboard quickie with him. His astonishment turns to outrage when Cherry drives away in a limousine and strands him at the airport, taking his camera bag and BlackBerry with her.
Ann decides to spend her few days off touring the Florida Keys, but while driving through Key Largo, she swerves to avoid a man scooping a roadkill off the highway, and her car goes off a bridge. When she wakes up, the man, "Skink" has rescued her. With apologies, Skink brings her along on a brief mission to kidnap and intimidate real estate developer Jackie Sebago, whose crew cut down a red mangrove forest for his new condominium project. Afterwards, Skink has a friend give her a ride to the nearest hospital, and gives her the number for his seldom-used cell phone, to call in case she ever needs help.
With Ann temporarily out of contact, Cherry's mother and entourage fly to Florida to track Cherry down. Over Janet's protests, Cherry's record promoter, Maury Lykes, assigns a man nicknamed "Chemo" to replace Cherry's recently fired bodyguard. Maury believes Chemo, an ex-convict, is the perfect person to whip Cherry into shape, as well as so ugly that even Cherry may hesitate before trying to seduce him.
Chemo tracks Cherry and her actor boyfriend to a tattoo parlor, and hauls Cherry back to the hotel, though not before Cherry (drunkenly following the advice of a fraudulent psychic) has had an extremely ugly likeness of Axl Rose half-finished onto her neck. When Ann reports back, Janet tells her to have the design copied in henna for her next public appearance as Cherry.
After the surreal sexual encounter aboard the plane, and the subsequent theft of his cameras and phone, Bang Abbott's obsession with Cherry has increased to a manic level; he now imagines himself as the victim of a cruel, convoluted scheme by her to humiliate him. Lying in wait outside her hotel, Abbott kidnaps her at gunpoint, only to realize that the woman he has snatched (misled by the henna tattoo) is Ann.
Abbott comes up with a new plan: demanding, in exchange for Ann's safe return, that Cherry be made available to him for a private photo shoot. When she calls Janet, Ann is furious to hear that, not only are the Buntermans hesitant to meet these demands, but they have not even reported her missing to the police. For Cherry's "handlers", the paramount concern is that Ann's masquerade remain a secret from the media, and from Cherry herself (in private, Cherry's twin publicists reason to Janet that it would be more convenient for everyone if the kidnapper killed Ann instead of returning her).
When Abbott lets Ann use the bathroom, she hurriedly uses her cell phone to call the only number she has: Skink's. He drops his mission and makes his way to South Beach.
Cherry spends the next few days in a sulk, since Chemo is keeping her under virtual house arrest and keeping all drugs and alcohol out of reach. Once she realizes that he is working for Maury, not her, she makes a lame attempt to seduce him, which fails. Chemo, for his part, is having difficulty putting up with Cherry's endless whining and the awfulness of her "music" during rehearsals.
When the Buntermans refuse to agree to Abbott's demand, he dresses Ann up in costume and shoots pictures of her with a discarded syringe, making it look as if "Cherry" is a drug addict. His threat to release those pictures to the media is taken much more seriously by the Buntermans than his threat against Ann's life.
Since Cherry and her family have managed to spend nearly all the millions of dollars she has made already, her father, Ned, suggests that they acede to Abbott's demands, albeit under controlled circumstances, since they are cheaper than paying a monetary ransom. In fact, with Cherry's popularity already fading quickly, Ned has the idea that a kidnapping story with a happy ending is the perfect publicity stunt to boost ticket sales for her upcoming tour, provided they can replace Ann with Cherry as the kidnap victim.
The photo shoot takes place on Star Island, in the rented home of Cherry's actor boyfriend (who has been unceremoniously evicted for the day). Cherry has been duped into thinking that she is posing for the cover of Vanity Fair, while Chemo is assigned to watch-dog the session and make sure nothing "porny" occurs.
When she meets her employers again, Ann is surprised by the depth of her own anger: the Buntermans' obsession with Cherry's career trumped any concerns they may have had about Ann's safety; they covered up her abduction and had a story "ready to roll" if Ann had been found dead; even now, their accession to Abbott's demands is primarily motivated by their worry over the embarrassing "drug" photos.
At that moment, Skink arrives, having finally tracked her down. Ann decides to leave with him rather than spend another moment with the Buntermans.
To his own surprise, Abbott's photos of Cherry turn out artful and striking (giving her an entirely false appearance of depth and complexity). Even Chemo, who is getting dangerously close to killing Cherry out of sheer irritation, concedes their quality, before he confiscates the digital memory cards containing them. Chemo was ordered to kill Abbott and return the photos to Maury, but Abbott convinces him that once Cherry is dead, they can make a fortune publishing them, so Chemo decides to let Abbott live and hang on to the photos.
The afternoon also has the side benefit of curing Abbott of his enlarged obsession with Cherry. Less than an hour spent in "conversation" with her is enough to convince him that she is as vacuous and shallow as she outwardly appears, and that it is absurd for him to have thought her capable of scheming to do anything, whether to entice him or antagonize him. In fact, once the affair is over, Abbott reflects that Ann, Cherry's non-famous double, is by far the more compelling woman.
With Abbott neutralized, the Buntermans prepare the next stage of their planned publicity stunt, meeting with Ann and Skink and offering her $50,000 in hush money. Ann declines, settling instead for plane fare back to California and the price of a snappy Zegna suit she bought for Skink. Ned is vastly relieved, but Janet finds it impossible to believe that anyone would turn down $50,000, and is sure Ann has some alternate scheme in mind. Ann informs the Buntermans that she's quitting her role as Cherry's double, and warns them never to contact her again.
Maury is so worried by Ann's decision that he flirts with the idea of paying Chemo to kill her. Chemo vetoes the idea, and warns Maury not to send anyone else after her. After less than a week spent with Cherry and her parents, Chemo is now firmly on Ann's side.
In private, the Buntermans admit to Cherry that she won't be appearing on the cover of Vanity Fair. Cherry pitches a fit, but is intrigued when her parents tell her she will be the star of a media blitz surrounding her fictional kidnapping. Cherry is upset to be told that, to sell the story, she will need to be secluded for a few days, ostensibly "recovering" from her ordeal. Janet and Ned encourage Cherry that it will allow her to sober up and prepare for the tour - but in private, Cherry vows to make the most of the remaining night.
With Skink's assistance, Ann has indeed come up with a scheme of her own, but, contrary to Janet's beliefs, it has nothing to do with grabbing either money or fame. Part of it is intended as a snub to the Buntermans, but part of it is a mission of mercy. Like many others, Ann foresees that Cherry is headed for self-destruction, but no one else (least of all Cherry's own parents) seems interested in trying to prevent it. Some, like Abbott, view her death as a potential gold mine, while others, such as her parents and Maury, have too much invested in her career to stop enabling her self-destructive addictions.
With a tip-off from one of Abbott's South Beach informants, Ann makes a conspicuous appearance at an exclusive nightclub, using Cherry's name. A short time later, Cherry escapes from her parents' guard at the hotel and goes to the club with her actor boyfriend, who has helpfully supplied various recreational drugs at her request. At the club, Ann approaches Cherry and tells her the truth about her role as Cherry's "stunt double". Several persons see them together and notice their striking resemblance. Cherry takes the revelation badly, launching herself at Ann in an inebriated rage, all of which is witnessed by the clubgoers, before Chemo arrives to carry her out. As he is doing so, Cherry vomits, inadvertently ruining the memory cards in his pocket containing the Star Island photos. Cherry's "meltdown" is captured in graphic detail by the horde of paparazzi outside the club, instantly sabotaging her entourage's chances of selling the bogus kidnapping story. Ann and Skink slip away in the chaos.
Abbott, however, does not get a photo of Cherry. Like the other paparazzi, he is lying in wait outside the club, but he is shot in the buttocks by a thug hired by one of his disgruntled tipsters. The tipster sent the information to Abbott's BlackBerry while Cherry had possession of it, and Abbott was unaware that the man was expecting his usual fee. In a touch of poetic justice, Abbott finds himself on the receiving end of his profession's notorious indifference to pain and suffering: as he lies in agony on the sidewalk, none of his fellow "shooters" are inclined to give him aid, but just keep snapping pictures of him as he is lifted into an ambulance.
(Like many of Hiaasen's novels, the book ends with an epilogue summarizing the outcome of the various plot lines and the fate of the characters in bulletin form.)
- Cherry's concert tour is canceled, and her comeback album is a flop, after her highly public "meltdown" and the embarrassing revelation about her need for a stunt double. Cherry enters rehab yet again (on the tiny island of St. Barts this time) and her career continues, though on a much humbler level than before. She is last reported as the star of her own reality series on TLC Network chronicling her gradual return to sobriety.
- Cherry's parents (whose relationship was sustained only by their shared interest in Cherry's career) separate after her music career collapses, though they still act as her managers and make occasional (paid) appearances on her TV show.
- The rest of Cherry's entourage breaks up, to meet various fates: her publicists continue to be much in demand, while her record promoter is forced to flee the U.S. and is eventually murdered by the father of one of his underage "protegées".
- With the revival of the real estate market, Chemo quits security work and returns to his former career as a mortgage loan broker.
- Claude Abbott only partially recovers from his bullet-wounding. While still able to operate a camera, he is no longer mobile enough to chase celebrities, and so abandons freelance photography and now operates a small portrait studio in Culver City, California.
- Ann establishes herself as a serious actress in Hollywood through a series of critically successful films. Although her former role as Cherry's double becomes public knowledge, Ann steadfastly refuses to capitalize on her brief notoriety, including turning down several lucrative book deals, and becomes famous on her own terms.
- Ann has never heard from Skink again, but hears from their mutual friend Jim Tile that the former governor of Florida is "in a good place".
- Ann DeLusia: A struggling actress normally based in Los Angeles, Ann was hired by Cherry Pye's family largely because of their physical resemblance. Cherry frequently needs someone to impersonate her in public to cover up her episodes of excess (though Cherry herself is completely unaware of this). Other than their looks, Ann is Cherry's polar opposite in every way: sober, intelligent, and dependable.
- Claude "Bang" Abbott: Formerly a Pulitzer Prize-winning staff photographer for the St. Petersburg Times, Claude quit the paper under ignominious circumstances and now lives the frenzied, itinerant (but extremely lucrative) life of a paparazzo. Originally obsessed with snapping a photo of Cherry under sordid circumstances, he becomes obsessed in a different way when she seduces him in a drunken haze aboard a private jet.
The star and her entourage
- Cherry Pye: Born Cheryl Gail Bunterman, Cherry won early fame at age 14 with a one-line appearance in a Nickelodeon after-school TV special, which her aggressive parents and equally aggressive record promoter inflated into a career as a pop star (though her songs are entirely ghost-written and lip-synched, due to Cherry's nonexistent singing voice and general lack of musicality). Now aged 22, she is uncontrollably addicted to alcohol, drugs, and sexual promiscuity.
- Janet Bunterman: Cheryl/Cherry's mother/manager. Janet is fanatically devoted to promoting her daughter's stardom, and insists on maintaining "positive energy" at all times - which manifests itself as an immovable state of denial about Cherry's many addictions (for instance, blaming her frequent drug overdoses on attacks of gastritis).
- Ned Bunterman: Cheryl/Cherry's father/accountant. His devotion to his daughter's career (and the money it brings into the family coffers) is equal to his wife's, though he does not share her blindness to their daughter's fragile state. However, he is of minimal help since his wife usually takes the lead in dealing with their daughter.
- Maury Lykes: Cherry's record promoter (he became interested in her after seeing her on Nickelodeon, which he regularly watches, being a closet pedophile). Unlike the Buntermans, he has no illusions about Cherry's lack of talent and self-destructive tendencies, but has a heavy stake in her upcoming comeback album and concert tour.
- Lucy and Lila Lark: Cherry's publicists. Born fraternal twins, they were so alike in temperament and thought that they later achieved, through plastic surgery, a shared desire to become identical twins. They are renowned in the entertainment industry for their skill at spin doctoring and other forms of "damage control", which allows them to limit their clientele to only the most famous, or most recklessly self-destructive, celebrities.
- Blondell Wayne Tatum, aka Chemo: a disfigured bodyguard, first introduced in Hiaasen's novel, Skin Tight.
- Clinton "Skink" Tyree: former governor of Florida, now wild bushman and environmental vigilante.
- Jim Tile: A retired State Trooper from the Florida Highway Patrol, Skink's former bodyguard and best friend.
- Tanner Dane Keefe: a young actor of handsome looks and mediocre talent, riding the fame of being attached to Quentin Tarantino's latest upcoming slasher/parody film (in which he plays a necrophiliac surfer). He becomes Cherry's latest love interest, though it takes all of ten days before she starts to lose interest in him.
- Jackie Sebago: a real-estate developer planning to build an upscale condominium complex in Key Largo, an enterprise which is already teetering on the brink of failure thanks to the real-estate bust and his own fiscal irresponsibility, when Skink appears to violently dissuade him from continuing with it.
- William Shea: one of Jackie's aggrieved investors, who demands the return of his money with increasing menace.
- Detective Rob Reilly: detective with the Monroe County Sheriff's Office; he stumbles onto Skink's trail after his assault on Jackie Sebago, but ends up with little to no evidence of a crime.
- D.T. Maltby: Clinton Tyree's former lieutenant governor, and one of his principal betrayers. Now a well-paid lobbyist living in Key Largo.
- Ruben "Whaddup" Coyle: a mediocre point guard for the Miami Heat basketball team, whose career is on the skids due to recurring tendencies to lease luxury Jaguar convertibles and then wreck said vehicles under the influence of alcohol and drugs.
- Freemont Spores: a retired newsprint mechanic who now operates a bank of contraband police scanners and feeds juicy tips to tabloid reporters, photographers, and the Miami underworld.
- Teddy Loo: one of Abbott's competing "shooters" (paparazzi).
Allusions/references to actual history, geography and current science
- Janet complains that Ann is "wasting away in Tequilaville", mangling the lyrics of Jimmy Buffett's song "Margaritaville."
- The novel drops the names of several real-life celebrities, either as quarry of Bang Abbott, or rivals of Cherry. Some memorable references include:
- Abbott remembers the media "frenzy" that followed Michael Jackson's death, and his obsession with stalking Cherry is based not so much on her talent or even the stature of her fame, but rather his conviction that she is most likely to "beat the others to the grave", and that her death will generate another bonanza of publicity and demand for photos of her.
- While criticizing the paparazzi in front of Abbott, Cherry makes an offhand reference to their role in the accidental death of Princess Diana.
- One of Cherry's previous attempts to rejuvenate her failing career involved circulating a sex tape on the Internet, which Abbott bought and was disappointed to find was even duller than Paris Hilton's;
- Cherry proposes that she adopt a baby as a publicity stunt; attempting to discourage the notion, Janet (avoiding saying out loud that Cherry is "unfit to care for a goldfish, much less a child") argues that celebrity adoptions have already been over-hyped, thanks to "Angelina and Madge" (likely a reference to Angelina Jolie and Madonna);
- When asked to name the worst thing he's ever done in pursuit of a photo, Abbott recalls bribing a florist's delivery boy to snap shots of a comatose Farrah Fawcett on her deathbed;
- Abbott recounts that the worst humiliation he ever suffered as a paparazzo was when Charlie Sheen threw him to the ground and urinated in his ear.
- When duping Cherry into thinking she is posing for Vanity Fair, her entourage recalls the hysterical tantrum Cherry threw when Lindsay Lohan appeared on the cover of that magazine.
- Behind her back, Cherry's entourage frequently compare her to British pop singer Amy Winehouse, for her reckless and recurring use of drugs and alcohol. Cherry's father points to Winehouse as an ominous illustration of what might happen to Cherry's career if she is not kept under control, noting that Winehouse (unlike Cherry) has genuine talent, but that has not stopped drug and alcohol abuse from wrecking her career.