Native Tongue (Carl Hiaasen novel)
|Publisher||Alfred A. Knopf|
|Media type||Print (hard and paperback)|
|LC Class||PS3558.I217 N38 1991|
Native Tongue is a novel by Carl Hiaasen, published in 1991. Like all his novels, it is set in Florida. The themes of the novel include corruption, environmentalism, exploitation of endangered species, and animal rights.
Joe Winder is a journalism dropout employed to compose press releases for the Amazing Kingdom, a Florida-based theme park that aspires to achieve the greatness of Disney World. The park is owned by a former “wise guy” whose court testimony forced him to seek refuge in the Federal Witness Protection Program. A new identity and a change of venue, however, did nothing to alter the morals of Francis X. Kingsbury. He thinks nothing of faking wildlife exhibits, destroying the fragile environment of the Florida Keys, or using lethal means to protect his nefarious schemes from public exposure. When an equally amoral environmentalist resolves to thwart Kingsbury’s designs. Winder comes out of retirement as an investigative reporter to attempt to rescue the last of a near-extinct species. He finds himself in alliance with an ex-governor seeking absolution in the life of a hermit, law enforcement officials with a peculiar sense of justice, two of the most bumbling burglars ever to circumvent an alarm system, and an incredibly bloodthirsty senior citizen. This motley group, with the assistance of a contract killer sent by the mob to eliminate Kingsbury, put paid to those who would damage the environment and subvert the democratic process.
Joe Winder (37), formerly an investigative reporter, now works as a highly paid writer for the public relations department of "The Amazing Kingdom of Thrills," a theme park located on North Key Largo. His dulled investigative instincts are roused by the theft of two "Blue Tongued Mango Voles" from the park's "Rare Animal Pavilion." Winder's boss, Charles Chelsea, discourages him from looking into the theft, but Winder secretly questions Dr. Will Koocher, the young biologist hired to supervise the captive breeding of the endangered voles.
The Amazing Kingdom's founder and owner is Francis X. Kingsbury, f.k.a. Frankie King, a convicted racketeer relocated to Florida as part of the Witness Protection Program after testifying against several mid-level members of the John Gotti crime family. Having discovered a previously unknown talent for selling real estate, Kingsbury has become very wealthy, and is adored by every Chamber of Commerce in South Florida for building the Amazing Kingdom to compete with Walt Disney World for family tourism. Kingsbury's next project is to build an enormous golf course and vacation resort community near the Amazing Kingdom, blatantly ignoring the proximity of a federal wildlife preserve.
The theft of the mango voles was commissioned by Molly McNamara, the elderly founder of a small environmentalist group, the "Mothers of Wilderness." Unfortunately, the two burglars she hired, Bud Schwartz and Danny Pogue, were careless with the voles during the getaway, and both animals were killed. Furious, Molly gives both of the burglars non-fatal gunshot wounds with a pistol she keeps in her handbag, and announces that they have just joined the Mothers of Wilderness, remaining in her employ for future moves against Kingsbury.
Winder, who grew up in South Florida, is infuriated by the new golf course project. Instead of heeding Chelsea's warnings, Winder keeps investigating the theft of the voles, especially after Dr. Koocher disappears. The next day, the Amazing Kingdom's trained orca whale dies suddenly. During the autopsy, the park's veterinarian finds Koocher's dead body lodged in the whale's throat.
Winder suspects foul play, but Chelsea insists that it could only have been a tragic accident, or possibly suicide. Winder refuses to let go of his suspicions, and the Kingdom's security chief, Pedro Luz, catches him searching Koocher's office for clues.
Chelsea decides to fire Winder, but Winder says he's found the motive for Koocher's murder: a bottle of blue food coloring hidden in the vole lab, meaning Koocher had discovered that the "endangered" blue-tongued mango voles were completely fake, and he was silenced before he could expose Kingsbury's fraud. Chelsea shakily denies knowledge of any crime, but Winder exits the office with a laugh, vowing, "you can fire me, but I won't go away."
Meanwhile, Molly sends Bud and Danny to burglarize Kingsbury's office at the Amazing Kingdom, looking for proof of illegal activities connected with the Falcon Trace project. Among Kingsbury's private files, Bud finds news clippings and correspondence showing Kingsbury's true identity as a former mafioso. Unknown to Molly, he and Danny approach Kingsbury and blackmail him for the return of the files. Frightened of the mob's retaliation, Kingsbury promises them a large sum. Bud and Danny are elated, but return to Molly's condominium to find her savagely beaten - Kingsbury sent Pedro Luz to give her "a warning" after she and the Mothers of Wilderness picketed an opening ceremony at Falcon Trace. Bud and Danny may be crooks, but they are both appalled at the cold-blooded brutality of Kingsbury and his men.
Joe Winder's girlfriend, Nina, leaves him after he loses his job, but he finds allies in Carrie Lanier, an actress who plays one of the Kingdom's animal characters, and "Skink", an ex-governor of Florida who now lives wild in the Key Largo woods. Both men are vehemently opposed to the new golf resort, and agree that the law can do little to punish Kingsbury for Koocher's murder.
Joe begins his campaign against the Amazing Kingdom by sabotaging equipment at the Falcon Trace construction site, but with Carrie's encouragement switches to a more creative approach: issuing counterfeit press releases that describe outbreaks of infectious disease or migrations of poisonous snakes at the park. Chelsea counters each of these releases, while Pedro tries to track down Winder and kill him, but Winder evades them. Under Skink's guidance, Joe and Carrie also meet and compare notes with Molly, Bud, and Danny, and Winder learns of Kingsbury's true identity.
When Bud and Danny appear to exchange Kingsbury's files for their blackmail money, Pedro Luz and one of his security guards try to kill them instead. The two burglars escape, and an enraged Bud tracks down a mid-ranking associate of the Gotti organization and informs him of "Frankie King's" true whereabouts. A mob hit man is sent down, but his shot misses, accidentally wounding the golf pro standing next to Kingsbury.
Winder has saved his final move for the Kingdom's "Summerfest Jubilee." Disguised in Carrie's animal costume, Winder enters the park and, with Bud and Danny's help, breaks into Kingsbury's office to confront him. Winder offers Kingsbury a graceful way out of his troubles, giving him a press release announcing that he will cancel the Falcon Trace development for environmentally conscious reasons. Kingsbury throws the offer back in his face, but Winder urges him to consider the facts: Kingsbury obtained the funding and construction permits for Falcon Trace using a false name, and once the media finds out who he really is, attendance at the Amazing Kingdom will evaporate, the Falcon Trace project will be dead, and he can look forward to years of multi-million dollar lawsuits. Last but not least, Winder reminds him, Kingsbury has egregiously violated the terms of his probation by defrauding the government for a grant under the Endangered Species Act, and by hiring Pedro and a posse of other convicted felons as the Amazing Kingdom's security guards; even if he is never implicated for Dr. Koocher's murder, a short term at Eglin is a virtual certainty. Just as Kingsbury is in a mood to take Winder's offer, Pedro bursts into the office, relieves Winder of his gun, and marches him out of the office. Kingsbury orders him killed.
Winder takes a brutal beating, but Skink appears and saves him, pitching Pedro into the whale tank, now occupied by a solitary male bottlenose dolphin. Pedro drowns while being sexually assaulted by the amorous dolphin.
Skink, who has more experience dealing with men like Kingsbury, has rejected Winder's more subtle approach in favor of burning the Amazing Kingdom down. First, he and Winder watch Carrie's first and last performance as the star of the Kingdom's Jubilee parade. Originally cast as a scantily clad Seminole maiden, she has defiantly chosen to wear an elegant gown and sing an aria from the final act of Tosca. Skink and Winder are enchanted, though the majority of the tourists in attendance are baffled.
As soon as the parade is over, Skink trips the park's fire alarm, causing the tourists and employees to flee. Kingsbury rushes around the park, trying to locate Pedro or the other security guards, to shut down the alarm and keep the paying guests from leaving. He is greeted in his office by one of the tourists, who introduces himself as the mob hit man. The last thing Kingsbury sees before he is shot dead is the park starting to burn as Skink's strategically placed gasoline is ignited.
Joe and Carrie escape the park on foot, holding hands, while Molly, Danny, and Bud watch the park burn to the ground from the television in her hospital room.
In the epilogue, the Falcon Trace property is acquired by outside investors with plans to continue the development, but the project is halted when the Mothers of Wilderness report a sighting of two more of the presumed-extinct "Mango Voles" in the nearby woods. The land, and the remains of the Amazing Kingdom, are replanted and eventually incorporated into the nearby nature preserve.
- Joe Winder: The protagonist of the book. He works in public relations for The Amazing Kingdom, and was formerly an investigative reporter.
- Carrie Lanier: Winder's love interest. An aspiring actress who currently plays one of the animal characters at the Amazing Kingdom.
- Charles Chelsea: Vice President of public relations for The Amazing Kingdom, and Winder's immediate boss. A true spin doctor, he is so terrified of Kingsbury's displeasure that he will cover up anything remotely unpleasant that happens at the Kingdom.
- Pedro Luz: The fitness-obsessed head of security at The Amazing Kingdom, a corrupt ex-policeman who combines steroids with an IV drip.
- Molly McNamara: The seemingly 'sweet' old lady who hires two former robbers to steal the voles. She is a member of the Mothers of Wilderness, a fictional environmentalist group whose highly funded work usually comes to nothing.
- Bud Schwartz and Danny Pogue: The two burglars hired by Molly.
- Skink, otherwise known as Clinton Tyree: Former Governor of Florida. After giving up faith in the political system he decides to live in the Everglades. He always wears a shower cap and an electronic tracking device he found on a wild Florida panther (leading to the appearance of the trackers at the climax). Skink saves Joe's life on more than one occasion and is instrumental at the ending of the book.
- Francis X. Kingsbury: The owner of the "Amazing Kingdom of Thrills" and a convicted felon, is a member of the witness protection program after grassing on some mobsters in order to preserve himself.
References to actual history, science, or current events
- Kingsbury conceived the "Mango Vole" scam as a way of competing with Walt Disney World's much-lauded (though ultimately unsuccessful) attempt to repopulate the now-extinct dusky seaside sparrow.
- The "Mango Voles" were actually cosmetically altered pine voles (Microtus pitymys); far from being endangered, as Kingsbury's accomplice tells him, they are classified as a species of least concern because of their abundance.
- Skink admits to secret dreams of breaking into Riker's Island prison in New York State and killing Mark David Chapman, the man who murdered John Lennon, the lead singer for The Beatles. Skink and Winder both discuss The Dakota hotel, the scene of Lennon's murder.
- Winder is saddened that Carrie, unlike him, cannot clearly remember the circumstances of Lennon's murder, and she defends that she was only fourteen years old when it happened, and, moreover, "it's easy to lose track of these idiots," naming other emotionally disturbed gunmen who have become famous, such as Lee Harvey Oswald, Sirhan Sirhan and John Hinckley;
- The Amazing Kingdom's nightly parade is based loosely on the history of Florida, making lighthearted, bloodless references to historical figures such as Juan Ponce de León, the pirate Black Caesar, and the Seminole chief Osceola, and events such as the Great Miami Hurricane of 1926. It also deliberately excludes mention of such episodes as the slaughter of French Hugenots at Fort Caroline in 1565 ("It would have been difficult to find a musical score suitable to accompany a mass disemboweling...")
- Several real-life pro golfers are named as contemporaries of Kingsbury's pro, Jake Harp, including Ben Hogan, Jack "The Bear" Nicklaus, Raymond Floyd, Arnold "Arnie" Palmer, Lee "The Mex" Trevino, Greg "The Shark" Norman, and Billy Casper.
- Kingsbury wears a variety of hairpieces to conceal his baldness, imitating the hairstyles of persons such as Kenny Rogers and Jack Kemp.
Connections with Hiaasen's other works
- Skink, a.k.a. Clinton Tyree, and his best friend Jim Tile, both reappear after their initial introduction in Double Whammy.
- Hiaasen's book Team Rodent: How Disney Devours the World collects a series of essays castigating Walt Disney World, and the Disney Company in general, for their reality-distorting brand of entertainment and their corporate greed. The fictional "Amazing Kingdom" acts as a thinly veiled parody of Disney World, a theme park run by a fugitive ex-mobster whose sole motivation for providing family entertainment is that it is amazingly lucrative, and who will go to any lengths, including murder, to protect it.
- In Hiaasen's debut novel, Tourist Season, one of the civic leaders discussing Miami's response to a new eco-terrorist group operating in South Florida laments, "why doesn't this kind of shit ever happen to Disney World?" Hiaasen expands on this theme in Native Tongue, declaring that South Florida business and civic leaders blame Disney World for diverting the family tourist trade to Orlando, and greeted Kingsbury's proposal for a competitive theme park with instant, roaring approval.
- One of the most disgraceful floats in the Amazing Kingdom's nightly parade is entitled "Migrants on a Mission," portraying cheerful Caribbean farm workers dancing in Florida's sugar cane fields; Hiaasen's subsequent novel, Strip Tease, focuses on the sugar cane industry's exploitation of migrant labor, and the workers' squalid living conditions.
- Warren Zevon is named as one of Joe Winder's favorite rock musicians; Zevon was a long-time friend of Hiaasen, and the two collaborated on the lyrics for the song "Basket Case," which appeared in Hiaasen's subsequent novel of the same name and Zevon's 2002 album My Ride's Here.