By Gene Lyons
Updated August 20, 1993 at 04:00 AM EDT

There’s trouble, big trouble, down at the Eager Beaver lounge, a girly bar near Fort Lauderdale. Trouble in the form of a stockbroker’s bachelor party getting rather out of hand, with champagne being sprayed all over the dancers, and the groom-to-be crawling on the stage in a state of drunken infatuation and fastening himself to one of the girls like a sea lamprey. Even before the bouncer can pry him off — with his boozing cohorts hooting and taking snapshots — David Dilbeck, a U.S. congressman clumsily disguised in a fake mustache, staggers into the strobe lights. Wielding an empty champagne bottle, he wades in to defend the naked dancer’s honor, battering the lust-crazed stockbroker senseless before being pulled off him and hustled away in a limo by one of his handlers. (”It’s a sickness, that’s all,” the politician whines. ”I should never be around naked women.”)

Somebody calls the police, but you know how that goes in a novel like this. ”Cops — they usually got about as far as the front bar and then forgot why they’d come. They’d wander through the Eager Beaver bug-eyed and silly, like little kids at Disney World.” Thus begins Carl Hiaasen’s hilariously smutty, wickedly satirical novel Strip Tease. Cleverly plotted and populated by a crackpot cast of strippers, bouncers, fixers, playboys, blackmailing lawyers, corrupt politicos, and incompetent crooks and a hardworking homicide cop who spends his time driving all over South Florida with a Styrofoam cooler collecting the scattered remains of a slain drug dealer, the Miami Herald columnist’s fifth novel delivers home truths and rueful laughs on every page.

What happens, see, is that this mousy little gent whom stripper Erin Grant and the other girls call Mr. Peepers recognizes the congressman despite his ersatz facial hair. Seeing a chance to ingratiate himself with Erin, Mr. Peepers makes an ineffectual blackmail attempt. It seems that the stripper gave up her day job and turned to G-strings and garter belts only after her ex-husband — a professional wheelchair thief — was awarded custody of their child and she needed cash to pay her lawyer. Unless the congressman pressures the judge — himself a regular at the Eager Beaver — to give Erin’s kid back, Mr. Peepers threatens to go public. Next thing you know, his corpse is washing down a river in Montana where a Miami detective and his boy just happen to be vacationing.

For all Hiaasen’s abundant wit, his previous concoctions, like Native Tongue and Double Whammy, have tended to dissipate their narrative energy in murky subplots and preachy asides. Not so Strip Tease, a minor comic masterpiece from beginning to end. A-