Miami Herald reporter Carl Hiaasen has been writing comic crime novels for adults since 1986, but in 2002, he found that his blend of narrative whimsy, creeps-vs.-crusaders sensibility, and pro-nature messages were tailor-made for children's books as well, and his first young-readers novel, Hoot, became a national bestseller and Newbery Award-winner. The story of a handful of kids fighting sleazy developers on behalf of several families of protected burrowing owls, Hoot easily fits into Hiaasen's pattern of evocative Florida environmental-crime novels ("not nasty big-city crime, but flaky Florida-style crime," as one Hoot cop puts it), from its quirky characters to its obvious love of the local milieu.

And so does Flush, Hiaasen's second novel written to be accessible for kids but entertaining for adults. Like Hoot, Flush follows a practical, nervy young boy who's up against corrupt officials and greed-driven businessmen. As the story opens, first-person narrator Noah Underwood is in jail visiting his father Paine, who, in the latest of a series of ill-considered strikes against the inconsiderate boors of the world, has just deliberately sunk a gambling boat called the Coral Queen. Noah's father knows the Queen's sleazy owner, Dusty Muleman, has been illegally dumping the ship's toilet sewage directly into the local marina, polluting the beaches frequented by local kids and loggerhead turtles. A typical book of this breed would simply have Noah out to clear his dad's name, but Hiaasen complicates matters; Paine is a flawed figure, stirring up trouble and eagerly seeking publicity. Noah's equally nervy sister Abbey and others all further muddy events, turning Flush into something midway between Louis Sachar's Holes, a Christopher Moore comedy, and an Elmore Leonard caper with training wheels.


Flush's prose is simpler and cleaner than Hoot's, and its story is too; for all its colorful characters, Flush is less of a mystery-adventure and more a straightforward tale of creative kid activism. Hiaasen tends to get expansive and rhapsodic when depicting Florida sunsets and waterways, but otherwise, he seems increasingly comfortable with this leaner, more easy-breathing version of his prose. For older readers, Flush is more a light snack than the meaty meal of Hiaasen hits like Lucky You and Sick Puppy, but for all its streamlined simplicity, it still carries a lot of appealingly familiar flavor.