Tag Archives: Carl Hiaasen

A severed arm, a voodoo lady, and a detective on the roach patrol — and, oh yes, a very bad monkey


A review of Bad Monkey, by Carl Hiaasen

@@@@ (4 out of 5)

I miss Skink.

Skink, as you may be aware if you’re a Carl Hiaasen fan, is the deranged ex-Governor of Florida who now lives as a hermit in the Everglades and descends on environmental evil-doers of all stripes to wreak justice upon their bodies and souls alike, never to be forgotten. Skink is Justice personified. Yet there’s not a whiff of Skink — oh, yes, you can smell him from far away — in Hiaasen’s 17th novel for grown-ups, Bad Monkey.

Bad Monkey is a story of environmental crime in Florida only in passing. More properly, it’s a murder mystery and detective story. Hiaasen’s protagonist, Andrew Yancy, finds himself on the “roach patrol,” a restaurant health inspector, having been fired from the Miami PD (the result of reporting his sergeant for corruption) and then from the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department (the result of an inspired but indecorous outburst of sadism effected upon his lover’s husband, unfortunately in public).

Here’s Hiaasen delicately referring to that incident: “Bonnie Witt, Yancy’s future former girlfriend, was prepared to testify that he’d assaulted her husband of fourteen years with a portable vacuum cleaner, specifically a tubular attachment designed for upholstery crevices. Clifford Witt had required some specialized medical care but he was more or less ambulatory within a week.”

Yancy, confined to the comforts of his lover and the bottle, suddenly finds himself the missing link of sorts to a gruesome incident at sea when the human arm in his freezer turns out not to be evidence of suicide but rather of . . . drum roll, please: murder.

Don’t ask how that arm got into Yancy’s freezer. You’ll have to read the book to find out. Suffice it to say that possession of the arm leads Yancy to make the acquaintance of a strikingly beautiful Cuban-American Miami coroner named Dr. Rosa Campesino, a more than worthy substitute for his now ex-lover, who turns out to be a fugitive from a felony count in Oklahoma. Yancy and Rosa team up to find the truth that lies behind the ghastly artifact, only to become involved in another murder. As the bodies pile up, the daring duo encounters the suspicious young widow of the armless deceased, his greedy estranged daughter, a Bahamian fisherman, a man-eating voodoo lady, and assorted no-goodniks and ne’er-do-wells throughout the Florida Keys and the Bahamas, plus one very bad monkey named Driggs. It’s all a spectacular clusterf***, and very funny. Structured as a murder mystery, it’s also full of suspense, brought on by a demonically clever plot.

Hiaasen’s view of officialdom in South Florida isn’t bright. “The new sheriff of Monroe County,” he writes, “was a local bubba named Sonny Summers who won office because he was the only candidate not in federal custody, the two front-runners having been locked up on unconnected racketeering charges eight days before the election.”

Truth be told, the author’s opinion of the assorted low-life to be found on the beaches of the keys isn’t much better. Writing about a beach bum who’d been bragging all over town about his $3,000 windfall (from committing a felony, of course), Hiaasen opines, in the voice of the now-deceased bum’s girlfriend, “‘Nobody said he was Alvin Einstein.’ Yancy thought it was fortunate that [the pair] hadn’t pooled their genes.”

Previously I’ve reviewed one of Carl Hiaasen’s adult novels, Star Island, and one of the four he has written for young adults, Chomp. However, I’m a Hiaasen fan from way back, having earlier read a number of his other books as well, and Bad Monkey will keep me coming back for more — even though Skink never showed his face in the book.

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Alligators, pythons, vampires, and gun-wielding drunks run amok in the Everglades

A review of Chomp, by Carl Hiaasen

@@@ (3 out of 5)

They’re maybe 14 years old. His name is Wahoo; he was named after the wrestler, not the fish. Hers is Tuna. Yes, the fish. So, they decide to call each other Lance and Lucille.

They live in the Everglades.

His father is an animal wrangler who supplies docile animals to TV survivalist shows that purport to show men wrestling with alligators or snakes. Hers is a drunken bum who drove her mother away to Chicago and now beats her instead of her mother.

They spend a lot of time together, but they are NOT boyfriend and girlfriend.

Now, are you getting the impression that this cockamamie story is a book for young readers?

Welcome to the world of Carl Hiaasen, a long-time columnist for the Miami Herald who has written some of the funniest novels ever on environmental themes. His adult books — there are 16 of them — are all set in Florida. As Wikipedia notes, “Hiaasen’s Florida is a hive of greedy businessmen, corrupt politicians, dumb blondes, apathetic retirees, intellectually challenged tourists, hard-luck redneck cooters, and militant ecoteurs.” That “militant ecoteur,” by the way, is a deranged ex-Governor who walked out of the capital one day long ago and went feral. He now holes up in the Everglades, eating what he can scavenge or kill and ever vigilant to threats to its flora and fauna.

Chomp is one of Hiaasen’s four novels for young adults. Like his grown-up books, Chomp is chiefly a satire, with the environment as the beneficiary. Here, the brunt of Hiaasen’s wit is Derek Badger (“NOT Beaver”), the star of a wildly popular TV show featuring him in constant danger in the wilderness from man-eating beasts. However, as Wahoo and Tuna soon learn once Badger hires Wahoo’s father for a show in the Everglades, Badger is nothing of the sort, since every encounter on his show is carefully scripted and contrived, with little or no danger to the star. The REAL danger comes from Tuna’s gun-wielding father.

As a long-time fan of Hiaasen’s adult novels, I unknowingly picked up Chomp expecting more of the same. From the outset, though, the book seemed a little simple-minded, and the humor even broader and more obvious than I’d expected. I wasn’t aware that I failed to qualify as an intended reader. Still, the book was amusing, the characters rooted in a true if cockeyed version of reality, and the plot was rich. No reader should be surprised to learn that alligators, pythons, would-be vampires, and gun-wielding drunks turn up in this story, not to mention a hedonistic Hollywood producer.

Unfortunately, the feral ex-Governor is nowhere to be found in Chomp. I missed him.

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Star Island, by Carl Hiaasen

A review of Star Island, by Carl Hiaasen

@@@@ (4 out of 5)

Be careful if you travel to Florida. Be very careful. If you litter, step on an animal’s tail, or so much as look at a piece of oceanfront property, you may well become the object of Carl Hiaasen’s biting scorn.

Hiaasen, a columnist for the Miami Herald for nearly a quarter-century, is the author of 12 satirical novels about life in Florida. His work is — not to put too fine an edge on it — hysterically funny. Star Island is the latest installment in Hiaasen’s running battle with developers, politicians, tourists, dim-witted criminals, poachers, poseurs, and other assorted miscreants, often bearing unlikely names and usually engaged in some form or other of environmental crime. Carl Hiaasen is not a fan of the people who drained the swamps and built Miami, even though he’s lived there most of his life.

In Star Island, Hiaasen ventures forth from the realm of environmentalism to skewer celebrities in all their narcissistic glory. The central object of his less-than-tender attention is Cherry Pye, nee Cheryl Gail Bunterman, who resembles Britney Spears in many ways. At 22, Cherry has barely survived her teens; her fondness for constant and varied chemical stimulation seems to ensure that she will not survive her 20s, or even, possibly, tonight’s party.

Cherry Pye’s entourage includes her parents, from whom she has inherited her overly rosy self-image; her publicists, the botoxified Lark twins, who specialize in high-wattage celebrities on their way into the gutter; her record and concert producer, Maury Lykes, who in reality seems to like nothing and nobody except underage foreign-born models, usually two or three at a time; a gaggle of paparazzi, most notably Claude “Bang” Abbott, who won a Pulitzer for spot photography by luring a killer shark to a swimming tourist and catching on film the man’s arm being severed from his body; and Cherry’s “undercover stunt double,” a look-alike actress named Ann DeLusia, of whose existence Cherry is blissfully unaware. Ann is paid to make public appearances at night clubs, concerts, and other venues where Cherry is expected but is unable to show up herself due to what her mother insists is “gastritis.” This affliction, in Cherry’s case, invariably involves having her stomach pumped.

As we join this none-too-happy assemblage, Cherry is on the verge of releasing her second comeback album (“Skantily Klad”) and once again launching a comeback tour. Suffice it to say that complications ensue. Many complications. Among the most notable of these is Ann’s encounter with the one constant fixture in Hiaasen’s novels, a Vietnam war hero and ex-Governor of Florida now in his 60s who mysteriously disappeared from Tallahassee after a short while in office and has been living with the crocodiles in a swamp ever since, wreaking revenge in colorful ways on anyone within earshot who has despoiled the environment.

I could go on, but I won’t. You’ve gotta read it for yourself.

ISBN-10: 0307272583

ISBN-13: 978-0307272584


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