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'Flush' swirls with intrigue

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In the world of children's literature, many are called, but few are chosen.

Creating a work of fiction for young readers can present even more challenges than writing an adult novel: a restricted vocabulary, an inexperienced audience and no leaning on that old commercial fiction standby, sex.

Bookstores groan with the failed efforts of big-name writers and celebrities who have tried to follow the path to juvenile hearts blazed by J.K. Rowling.

Enter Carl Hiaasen, the rare writer who can write entertainingly for both the PG crowd with his middle school hit, Hoot, and now Flush, as well as for older readers who enjoy their fiction rated R for raunchy. (Hiaasen's adult best sellers include such dark comedies as Tourist Season, Skinny Dip and Striptease.)

When writing for adults, Hiaasen ladles in plenty of sexual kinkiness, political scandal, financial corruption and a palpable fury at the destruction of the environment.

For young readers, Hiaasen deletes the first ingredient but includes all the rest.

This is the reason more than 1million copies of Hoot are in print and why Flush probably and deservedly will float to the top of the juvenile best-seller lists.

In other words, Hiaasen isn't writing down to young readers; nor is he dishing out moral lectures. Instead, he presents his usual excellent fare: clever, well-paced plots, wildly weird characters you would find only in Florida and a passionate loathing for people who stink up the water and land.

In Flush, Hiaasen returns to his beloved Florida Keys. A young boy named Noah and his little sister, Abbey, live with their sensible mother and their idealistic, impassioned father.

The book opens with Noah visiting his father, who is in jail for sinking a floating gambling casino.

Dad sunk the boat because the vile owner is emptying the casino toilets into the ocean, which, of course, endangers both sea life and beach-goers.

How Noah and Abbey thwart the casino owner and stop the outrage provides the plot.

Among the outstanding elements of the book: Flush makes clear that living with an eco-radical husband is not easy for his wife, but Hiaasen does not demonize her caution.

The relationship between the siblings is both affectionate and realistic.

And the adults in the book are presented as real human beings, complete with a character nicknamed Lice and a lady with a barbed-wire tattoo on her arm.

Most of all, Hiaasen is able to portray the world as flawed, weird, yet sometimes wonderful.

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© Copyright 2004 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

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