By the early ’80s Hiaasen and fellow Herald reporter Brian Duffy had launched an investigation of Port Bougainville, the largest condominium and hotel development—2,800 units complete with canals and floating gondolas—ever planned for the Keys. In a series of articles, the journalists reported that developers had misrepresented the project’s size and had proceeded without final, necessary approvals from the state environmental regulation department and the Army Corps of Engineers. The company “had already started destroying hammocks of mangroves,” Hiaasen recalls. The pair dealt the enterprise a mortal blow with their revelation that an elected official who voted on construction projects had been seen handing out Port Bougainville brochures.
“Carl is a hell of a digger,” says Duffy, now editor of U.S. News & World Report. “He loved to get that telling detail, whether from the fifth re-interview of a source or from a mind-numbing government document.”
“He’s got a more visceral reaction to development than anyone I’ve ever known. He really feels it,” says Jeff Leen, a former Herald colleague who now heads the Washington Post’s investigative unit.
Shortly before the Port Bougainville story broke, an editor at the paper, William D. Montalbano, suggested that he and Hiaasen write a novel together. Powder Burn, about the city’s cocaine wars, appeared in 1981 to critical praise. The duo wrote three books before Hiaasen decided to go solo in 1985. Tourist Season (1986), a sardonic indictment of corruption in South Florida, put Hiaasen on the crime-writing map. Soon after the novel was published, Hiaasen appeared on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” where he opined that “there’s nothing wrong with Florida that a force-five hurricane wouldn’t fix.” Miami Mayor Xavier Suarez, incensed by the remark, suggested in an open letter published in the Herald that Hiaasen “displayed a one-dimensional, exponential hatred of South Florida” and that Hiaasen should take it upon himself to issue an apology to “the entire human race.”
In all, Hiaasen has written more than 1,500 newspaper columns, 13 novels, and a book-length diatribe against the Walt Disney Company titled Team Rodent: How Disney Devours the World. “After opening with an overbilious screed against the company’s signature blandness,” wrote a critic for Entertainment Weekly, “the author settles down and rakes good muck.” A spokesperson for Disney likened Rodent to “leftovers that have been heated up for a third time.”