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Scat    by Carl Hiaasen order for
by Carl Hiaasen
Order:  USA  Can
Knopf, 2009 (2009)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Scat is Carl Hiaasen's third (following Hoot and Flush) YA environmental mystery, set in Florida - and it's just as quirky and entertaining as the previous two. The puzzle that is presented to readers is the disappearance of tough and scary biology teacher Mrs. Starch in Black Vine Swamp after an arsonist sets a fire there, disrupting a private school field trip.

The story stars two Truman School students, best friends Nick Waters and Marta Gonzalez. At the Swamp, Nick caught an image of a tannish blur (that he thinks is an elusive - and endangered - panther) on his video camera as it darted into the cypress shadows. Fellow student Duane 'Smoke' Scrod - who is 'built like a bull', rebellious, and had threatened Mrs. Starch in class - is suspected of setting the fire. Calling Smoke's family dysfunctional is an understatement, though his wealthy grandmother tries to look out for his interests.

Nick has a lot on his mind. His dad, a National Guard Captain, stationed in Iraq, has been out of touch and he rechecks his email at every opportunity. When Nick's father is sent home minus an arm, Nick decides to support his dad by learning to cope one-armed himself and straps his right arm behind him.

Of course Smoke didn't set the fire. That was done by the Red Diamond Energy Corporation to protect an illicit operation there - which is also why they shot at a panther, whose sighting could shut down their entire project. They frame Smoke for the arson, but fortunately he's not alone. Not only is environmental activist Twilly on his side but soon, Nick and Marta help as well. They learn what happened to Bunny Starch. Nick's lefty training pays off big time and Marta wins a necklace of vulture beaks.

Not only has Carl Hiaasen crafted a sound mystery with strong environmental undercurrents in Scat, but he also underlines the importance of not taking people (of any age) at face value - and he has great fun with his title as well. Don't miss this one!

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