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Books in Brief: Skink No Surrender; Woman With a Gun

YOUNG ADULT

Skink No Surrender by Carl Hiaasen; Alfred A. Knopf, 281 pages.($18.99) Ages 12 and up.

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Novelist Carl Hiaasen has written several entertaining middle-grade environmental thrillers set in Florida – Newbery Honor book “Hoot” along with “Flush,” “Scat” and “Chomp.”

“Skink No Surrender,” his first book for a teen audience, is a hugely entertaining tale of a thriller, starring his iconic Clinton “Skink” Tyree character, the one-eyed, Vietnam vet, environmentalist-vigilante, formerly the governor of Florida, who has appeared in several of his novels for adults.

Teenage Richard Sloan, whose father died in a freak skateboarding accident, knows something is wrong when his cousin Malley disappears just before she was about to be shipped off to boarding school. Malley is like a sister to Richard, and he is so convinced something is wrong he sets out to find her, with the encouragement of Skink, after a chance meeting on the beach (Skink buries himself in sand, breathing through a straw, so he can catch people digging up leatherback turtle eggs). Florida, with its swamps and lowlifes, is a sort of Wild West and it takes someone like Skink to navigate it. Hiaasen ratchets up the suspense as Richard is left to his own devices to track down Malley and brave the hazards of the swamp and woods of the Choctawhatchee where one might encounter a trigger-happy, Internet-trolling psychopath, wild boars, even the occasional alligator. With its frenetic action, vivid setting (“battered pickup loaded with bulbous watermelons”) and larger-than-life hero, “Skink” is hugely entertaining, whether it’s a hilarious minor detail, of siblings named Nickel, Dime and Penny, or this memorable bit of wisdom from Skink: “Son, you’ve chosen the proverbial dead-end highway. Anyone who takes pot shots at a lovely wading bird is a hopeless defective, in my view, an evolutionary mistake.”

– Jean Westmoore

Suspense

Woman with a Gun by Phillip Margolin; Harper, 304 pages, ($26.99)

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Phillip Margolin takes a lighter approach with “Woman with a Gun,” an entertaining novel that, however, lacks the tight plotting and insight into the law of his legal thrillers.

“Woman with a Gun” is more like a Lifetime movie with pedantic dialogue, a few improbable twists, romance and revenge. Still, despite its flaws, “Woman with a Gun” makes one want to know what’s behind the photograph of a woman at the beach that captivates an aspiring novelist and launches a police investigation.

Stacey Kim came to New York City hoping to find inspiration to write a novel. Instead, she toils at a mindless job. Then at a museum exhibit, she is mesmerized by the photograph “Woman with a Gun,” in which a woman in a wedding dress stands at the edge of the ocean, holding an old-fashioned gun behind her. The 10-year-old photograph earned a Pulitzer Prize and a new career as a photographer for Kathy Moran, a former attorney who had slid into drugs. The photo was snapped when Kathy spotted newlywed Megan Cahill, badly beaten and dazed, having just found the body of her millionaire husband, Raymond. Parts of his valuable coin, gun and stamp collections had been stolen. Stacey sees the potential for a novel, so she quits her job, heading for Oregon where the crime took place.

The case has never been closed and the Cahill collections never recovered. As Stacey learns how the lives of the prosecutors, cops, victims and witnesses intersect, she also searches for evidence that may have been overlooked a decade ago.

– Oline H. Cogdill, Sun Sentinel