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What's on Tap

Bob's Books : Screenwriter Norman Steinberg

Posted July 28, 2015

— Author and book reviewer Bob Cairns recently caught up with Norman Steinberg, who heads the TV Writers Studio at Long Island University (Brooklyn campus), a one-of-a-kind program that gives students a real-world TV writing experience. Steinberg is an Emmy Award winner, a veteran screenwriter whose credits include "Blazing Saddles," "My Favorite Year," "Johnny Dangerously," "Mr. Mom" and many others. Steinberg shared his favorite older book with Cairns.

Here's what he had to say:

"Years before the Coen brothers ever thought of sending victims through a wood chipper in Fargo, Carl Hiaasen had already employed a chipper to slice and dice an unfortunate woman – Victoria Barletta – killed during a botched nose job in his 1989 novel, Skin Tight.

Pound for pound, in his or any other weight class, Carl Hiaasen is, in my humble opinion, the most inventive and, by a far margin, the funniest and quirkiest novelist working the crime genre. There’s no arguing about his best-sellerdom, yet, Hiaasen has constantly been consigned to second or third fiddle to the likes of Elmore Leonard and Donald Westlake. I cry “Foul.”  Is it because his books have not been made into hit movies?

Perhaps. Hiaasen is the bravest, most inventive and the most fall-down-funny writer toiling in this genre. Call him a satirist, a black humorist, an ironist, but just start working your way through his addictive fourteen books.

I give you the example of my favorite “Hiaasen,” his third published novel, Skin Tight. Like all of his books, Skin Tight is set in South Florida. This one features Mick Stranahan, retired investigator for the Florida State Attorney’s office where he had worked on the unsolved Victoria Barletta case.

That’s where it all starts. The aforementioned nose job was performed by Dr. Rudy Graveline, plastic surgeon. The problem is “Dr.” Graveline is not really a doctor and never even played one on TV. He is sort of a plastic surgeon hobbyist, but that doesn’t stop him from performing delicate cosmetic procedures that sometimes kill people. And now, Graveline is trying to kill Stranahan. Along the way, he will hire two hit men, one of whom is a seven-footer named “Chemo” with a grotesquely pock-marked face (courtesy of Dr Graveline) and a weed-whacker for a prosthetic hand.  Don’t ask. The body count is prodigious and inventive.

When’s the last time you read about someone being dispatched by a stuffed Marlin? Or, during a liposuction procedure? Hiaasen’s characters are always masterfully drawn.  There’s a whole host of whacked out oddballs throughout.  My favorite is the sleazeball reality show host named Reynaldo Flemm, after which no parody of Geraldo Rivera will ever be necessary. Even though he’s not in Skin Tight, there’s a recurring Hiaasen character, a former Governor of Florida, now living in the Everglades and existing on road kill. That will give you an idea of what’s in store for you with Carl Hiaasen. A full tasting menu."

Bob Cairns runs the site "Page Turners from the Past," a website devoted to bringing readers reviews of older books that deserve a good dusting off! His reviews are featured once a month on WRAL.com.

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