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I've been a house painter, dishwasher, broiler cook, private detective, military intelligence analyst, and I spent nearly 40 years as a reporter covering crime, 26 of them for the San Francisco Chronicle. These days I write science fiction, fantasy, horror and crime fiction, and I blog about books, films and crimes that don't receive sufficient attention from the mainstream media. I would like to be Elmore Leonard, Raymond Chandler, Ross MacDonald, Dashiell Hammett or George V. Higgins, but all of them are dead so I'll just stick with what I am already doing. . .

Saturday, August 17, 2013

More Fun than a Barrel of Bad Monkeys


By Carl Hiaasen


1317 KB
Print Length: 336 pages
Publisher: Knopf (June 11, 2013)
Sold by: Random House LLC
Language: English
ASIN: B00AP2VR8W

Take one trouble-prone sheriff's detective who has been demoted to inspecting restaurants for vermin. Add one hairless, pipe-smoking monkey, a Voodoo Queen, a Medicare scammer turned crooked resort developer and a libidinous grammar school teacher with a taste for outlaw sex. Fold in one female medical examiner who likes making love on autopsy tables. Half bake until extraordinarily well done.

You may be wondering if this is some tasty treat concocted by a trailer trash Martha Stewart. Not really. What it is, is a recipe for a good time a la Carl Hiaasen (Tourist Season, Skin Tight, Double Whammy), the Miami Herald writer and novelist who regularly turns out stories set in South Florida that are a winning combination of high jinks and low crimes.

Bad Monkey is Hiaasen's fourteenth solo adult novel (he has also written four books for young adults and co-authored three standard thrillers with the late Bill Montalbano, a journalistic colleague). The book's plot revolves around the misadventures of Andrew Yancey, a former member of the Miami police who is now a deputy sheriff for Monroe County, home of the Florida Keys.  

Carl Hiaasen

Yancey can't stay out of trouble: he lost his badge in Miami while blowing the whistle on a crooked police colleague ripping off a secret witness whistle-blower's fund; he is clinging to his job in Monroe County by the tips of his fingernails because he gave his girlfriend Bonnie's doctor husband a public colonoscopy with a small shop vacuum cleaner.

Desperate to save his law enforcement career, Yancey is persuaded by the publicity-conscious county sheriff to dispose of an unwanted piece of evidence from an apparent boating mishap: a man's arm that was hooked at sea by a fishing crew. The sheriff, who is planning to run for higher office, doesn't want the grisly prize in his jurisdiction because it could interfere with tourism, the island chain's number one industry. So he talks Yancey into transporting the severed limb to the Miami coroner's office while the soon-to-be-ex-detective is still nominally on the department's payroll.

The catch is, the assistant Dade County medical examiner, Dr. Rosa Ambesino, refuses to accept it.  Yancey is forced to return to his house in the keys with his trophy. He plunks the arm in his freezer and forgets about it.

Temporarily, at least: Yancey quickly uncovers enough discrepancies in the story of what happened to the arm's original owner that he decides the limb is actually evidence in a homicide case. As he investigates, two other murders are committed and he is nearly killed himself. Forging a bond with Dr. Ambesino, a pathologist with enough kinks to stop up a Home Depot garden hose, he works the case during the down time from inspecting restaurants that are so disgustingly unsanitary he has lost his appetite and fourteen pounds.

In the meantime, his relationship with his ex-girlfriend deteriorates, a new one springs up involving Dr. Ambesino, he encounters two hapless FBI agents investigating a multi-million dollar Medicare fraud, and travels to the Bahamas where he encounters the hairless simian that gives the book its name. Watch that bad monkey, incidentally -- he plays a critical role at several points in the story.

Amid this insanity, Yancey still manages to find the time to use a dead raccoon, swarming bees and a pack of mythical feral dogs to sabotage the developer of a house that blocks his view. What ultimately happens to the house is surprising, but if you share any of Hiaasen's attitudes about development or real estate scammers, you should find it quite satisfying.

Eventually, the true story of the severed arm is laid bare, the miscreants are dealt a sort of rough justice, Yancey manages to work out his tangled romantic relationships and there seems a possibility -- however remote -- that he will get his badge back sometime in the not-so-distant future.

The solution to the mystery becomes obvious about three-quarters of the way through the story, but "whodunit" is not the point of a Hiaasen novel; the author promises you hilarity with the first lines of the book and he delivers on that promise faithfully, summoning up a collection of memorable characters who are nearly as wacky as Skin Tight's Chemo, the hit-man with the Weed-Whacker prosthetic, "Skink," the former Florida governor who subsists on road kill, or Congressman David Lane Dilbeck, the corrupt legislator and lap-dancing enthusiast who is a central figure in Strip Tease.

So forget the traditional mystery. What you are here for is an air boat ride through a mangrove swamp with a skipper high on nitrous oxide. Sit back and enjoy it -- this is a perfect novel for what's left of this summer.



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