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Florida Authors Unite to Write Unusual Novel

Naked Came the Manatee

By Carl Hiaasen et al.

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G.P. Putnam's Sons

201 pp., $22.95

'Naked Came the Manatee" has 13 authors, and that may be the most interesting thing about the novel.

The 13 are all well-known names from Florida, including humor columnist Dave Barry, who wrote the first chapter, and mystery writer Carl Hiaasen, who penned the last.

This army of authors ties together a story involving incompetent crooks, international intrigue, a mysterious silver canister, and the pulse of a modern, out-of-control Florida.

As the book begins, Florida is in trouble. Nighttime riots are regular weekend events in Coconut Grove, the Army Corps of Engineers is destroying the Everglades in its attempt to save it, all-night parties encourage all vices, and voodoo items line the Miami courthouse steps.

Florida is wild, both in its natural and civilized parts, but the primitive areas of the state's subtropics seem to have already lost the contest with man.

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If "Manatee" were written by one person, the final product would be worrisome. It has an ever-changing tone, a surplus of main characters (many of whom are famous personalities from other novels such as Les Standiford's John Deal), and details that are introduced by one author and haphazardly reintroduced several chapters later by another.

For example, one prominent character is a manatee christened "Booger" by Dave Barry. Which brings up another point: Some of the humor is juvenile. Some of it is also trashier than need be, with a surprising amount of vulgar language for a book that originally appeared in serial form in The Miami Herald.

But this book is meant as a lark, and it is fun. It's a good introduction to authors you may not know, like James W. Hall and Edna Buchanan. Elmore Leonard of "Get Shorty" fame, also graces its pages.

It is the kind of book best read in an appropriate setting - like vacationing in Florida on the beach, with a chilled glass of lemonade, a searing heat, and the desire for a quick read. But if nothing less than a high-brow mystery will do, "Naked Came the Manatee" is not the book for you.

In TV terms, it is not PBS's "Mystery!"; it is more like the old, "Miami Vice."

* Katherine Dillin is a writer living in Boston.

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