Strip Tease (novel)
|Publisher||Alfred A. Knopf|
|Media type||Print (hardback and paperback)|
|Preceded by||Native Tongue|
|Followed by||Stormy Weather|
Strip Tease is a 1993 novel by Carl Hiaasen. Like most of his other novels, it is a crime novel set in Florida and features Hiaasen's characteristic black humor. The novel focuses on a single mother who has turned to exotic dancing to earn enough money to gain legal custody of her young daughter, and ends up matching wits with a lecherous United States Congressman and his powerful corporate backers.
Like many Hiaasen novels, the book's plot is set against a backdrop of a particular environmental crime or corruption issue that angers the author. In this case, it is the plutocracy of sugar growers in Florida, and the exorbitant subsidies regularly granted to them by the U.S. Congress.
Strip Tease was a New York Times bestseller in 1993.
During a late-night bachelor party at the Eager Beaver, a striptease club in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the drunken groom-to-be, Paul Guber, climbs on stage and grabs one of the dancers. Before the club's bouncer can act, Guber is attacked by another customer, swinging a champagne bottle. Chaos ensues, during which the attacker disappears in a hurry, and the groom is hospitalized.
The man with the bottle was U.S. Congressman David Lane Dilbeck, an incorrigible (yet secret) patron of strip bars, nude dancers, and other forms of erotic entertainment. Dilbeck's main function in Washington, D.C. is to rubber stamp lucrative price supports for Florida's sugar cane farming industry. His "handler," political fixer Malcolm Moldowsky, is furious at the Congressman's stupidity, since Dilbeck is in the middle of his re-election campaign.
The dancer is Erin Grant, a single mother engaged in a bitter legal fight with her ex-husband, Darrell, for custody of their young daughter, Angela. Erin was fired from her job as a secretary for the Federal Bureau of Investigation after Darrell was arrested for grand larceny (his "profession" is stealing and re-selling wheelchairs). The legal costs of her divorce impelled Erin to take up erotic dancing as a career. Ironically, her occupation has given the judge a prejudiced view of her, while Darrell's criminal record has been expunged after he has agreed to become an informant for the police. As a result, Darrell has been given custody of Angela, and Erin desperately needs even more money to reverse the court decision.
One of Erin's lovestruck fans, a bookish man named Jerry Killian, recognizes Dilbeck from the club, and tries to blackmail the Congressman into influencing the judge in Erin's favor. But when the judge proves resistant to Dilbeck's probing, Moldowsky decides the only way to safeguard Dilbeck is to have Killian murdered. His body is found floating in the Clark Fork River in Montana – to be found by Miami homicide detective Al Garcia, on vacation with his family.
Another blackmailer surfaces in the person of Mordecai, a sleazy lawyer related to Paul Guber's fiancee. One of Guber's friends from the bachelor party inadvertently snapped a picture of Dilbeck during the champagne-bottle attack, with which Mordecai demands hush money. But Mordecai and Paul's greedy fiancee are likewise murdered on Moldowsky's orders.
The photo has indirectly sparked Dilbeck's memory of that night, and he becomes obsessed with Erin, refusing to continue with his reelection campaign until he can "possess" her. Moldowsky, conscious that Dilbeck is necessary to his employers' continued prosperity, is forced to assist him.
Garcia returns to Florida and compares notes with Erin and her main ally, the club's bouncer Shad. Garcia discovers evidence linking Jerry Killian's murder to Moldowsky, but nothing that will stand up in court.
At the same time, Darrell Grant, who is also a drug addict, becomes totally irresponsible and is busted for larceny yet again. Disgusted, the police drop him as an informant and restore his criminal record, tipping the dispute in Erin's favor. Deciding not to wait, she snatches Angela while Darrell is away, from her aunt's house.
Moldowsky approaches Erin's boss and asks for her to give the Congressman a private performance. Erin agrees, knowing that it is the best way of gathering evidence.
During her first private show, Dilbeck is rendered nearly helpless with lust, and Erin finds it easy to manipulate him. He offers her even more money for a repeat performance, and she agrees.
Having realized that, under normal circumstances, Dilbeck will probably escape implication in Jerry Killian's murder, Erin comes up with a plan to "destroy" him.
On the night of the second performance, Darrell follows Erin to the meeting place, where he comes upon Moldowsky, watch-dogging the show, and beats him to death in a drug-induced rage.
Inside, Erin is dancing for Dilbeck again. Being used to women who are easily awed by his title, or by his extravagant favors, Dilbeck tries to seduce her, and is vexed when she proves unimpressed by either. Darrell enters, demanding to be taken to his daughter, and Erin moves to the next phase of her plan, drawing a pistol and ordering them both out.
With the help of Dilbeck's limousine driver, Erin drives Dilbeck and Darrell to a sugar cane field owned by Dilbeck's most prominent supporters. When the car stops, Darrell takes off running into the cane (unknown to anybody at the time, he winds up falling into a drug-induced slumber in a bed of freshly cut cane, and is killed when the cane is fed into a milling machine).
Erin offers to slow-dance with Dilbeck in the cane field. Dilbeck believes the dance is a prelude to "wild cowboy sex," but when he realizes it is not, he loses control and tries to rape Erin – at which point he is seized by a squad of F.B.I. agents, led by Erin's old boss, who received an anonymous call saying she had been kidnapped.
Dilbeck, caught in the middle of an attempted rape, is now trapped. Erin gives him an ultimatum: in exchange for avoiding arrest and public exposure, he must resign from his Congressional seat. If he refuses – "have you ever been on Hard Copy?"
With Darrell gone, and the threat to her from Dilbeck and his patrons removed, Erin resigns from the club and starts a new life with Angela. In the epilogue, it is said that she has gotten back her old job as a secretary with the F.B.I., and a night job dancing in the Main Street Parade at Walt Disney World, and is currently applying to become an F.B.I. Special Agent herself.
Times reviewer Donald E. Westlake described Hiaasen's style as "a cross between Dave Barry and Elmore Leonard." In a positive review of the novel, Westlake claims that this is Hiaasen's strongest novel to date, writing:
- "In among his freaks and obsessives... the author has dropped a real honest-to-God human being, an appealing young woman named Erin Grant. Her presence... makes the cartoon nastiness around her less cartoony and more nasty than in previous Hiaasen novels."
Connections with Hiaasen's other works
- Al Garcia, who has appeared in Tourist Season, Double Whammy, and Skin Tight, makes his fourth, and (to date) last appearance in Hiaasen's novels.
- The book rails against the sugar cane industry for its exploitation of migrant labor (a theme briefly touched on in the previous novel Native Tongue) and pollution of the Everglades, both of which crimes are also carried out by "Red" Hammernut, the corporate villain of Hiaasen's later novel Skinny Dip.
- Malcolm Moldowsky is a political fixer, but his ostensible occupation remains unspecified. Palmer Stoat, the main antagonist of Hiaasen's novel Sick Puppy, plays a similar role to Moldowsky's, and is a lobbyist by profession.
Allusions to history, geography, or people
- Dilbeck is based on J. Herbert Burke, a Republican Congressman from Broward County who was arrested for disorderly conduct in a topless bar in 1978.
- In his book, The Swamp, a history of the Everglades, Michael Grunwald opines that the fictional Rojo brothers, Dilbeck's main patrons in the sugar cane industry, are thinly-veiled parodies of Jose and Alfonso Fanjul, the owners of a large sugar cane conglomerate in Florida. Like the fictional Rojos, the Fanjul brothers became notorious in Florida for their ostentatious displays of wealth, and so served as a living indictment of the "struggling family farmer" myth used to promote agricultural subsidies.
- The Eager Beaver's owner, Orly, often boasts of ties to organized crime figures, such as Angelo Bruno, "Little Nicky" Scarfo and "Fat Tony" Salerno. One of these boasts falls flat when Salerno's death (which occurred in 1992) is reported.
- Moldowsky's hero and mentor is John Newton Mitchell, Richard Nixon's Attorney General, convicted of multiple crimes in connection with the Watergate scandal.
- In berating Dilbeck for his stupid behavior, Moldowsky reviews the names of several past politicians soiled by sex scandals: Gary Hart, Chuck Robb, and Teddy Kennedy.
- Moldowsky also lists women whose names have been associated with such scandals, including Fanne Fox (associated with Wilbur Mills), Elizabeth Ray (associated with Wayne Hays), Donna Rice (Gary Hart) and Gennifer Flowers (former president Bill Clinton).
- In lecturing Dilbeck, Moldowsky crudely paraphrases George Santayana's famous aphorism, "Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it."
- Several real-life members of the U.S. Congress and Senate are also mentioned by name as Dilbeck's contemporaries, including Bill Bradley, John Kerry and Daniel Patrick Moynihan.
- Garcia refers to the founding of the United States as a nation when he wonders aloud "what Thomas Paine would think of a Congressman who has sex with old shoes and laundry lint."
- In trying to impress Erin, Dilbeck shows her photos of him with several real-life politicians and celebrities, including Tip O'Neill, Colin Powell, Bill Bradley, Chris Dodd, Al D'Amato, Newt Gingrich and Chuck Norris.
In 1996, it was adapted to the screen, under the title Striptease, written and directed by Andrew Bergman, and starring Demi Moore as Erin, Burt Reynolds as Dilbeck, Ving Rhames as Shad, Armand Assante as Al Garcia, Robert Patrick as Darrell, Rumer Willis as Angela and Paul Guilfoyle as Moldowsky.