Tag Archives: detective story

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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Filed under Humor, Trade Fiction

The One from the Other, by Philip Kerr

@@@ @ (4 out of 5)

Both U.S. critics and the British public seem to love Philip Kerr, but I can’t quite figure out why. Oh, Kerr’s good, all right. I can understand why they like him. It’s just that love seems a little over the top.

Kerr’s plotting is complex and full of tension and ultimate surprise, and his characters ring true, for the most part. But The One from the Other, one in a longish series of novels featuring a World War II-era German detective named Bernie Gunther, is written in a wise-guy style reminiscent of early American detective stories. And it’s not just in the snappy, clever dialogue — I can go for snappy dialogue as well as the next reader — but in Gunther’s inner narrative. The result is a book that’s alternately funny and forced.

For example, here’s how Bernie describes his meeting with one incidental character: “Frau Klingerhoffer . . . was working on a leg of lamb like a mechanic going after a set of rusty spark plugs with a wrench and a rubber hammer. She didn’t stop eating for a moment. Not even when I bowed and said hello. She probably wouldn’t have stopped if the lamb had let out a bleat and inquired where Mary was.”

Cute, eh? So’s this: “There was something in his face I didn’t like. Mostly it was just his face.”

But this stuff is non-stop in The One from the Other. There are paragraphs in which Kerr uses as many as four similes and metaphors to describe a character or a scene. It gets a little old.

Admittedly, though, the overdone style is just one aspect of this otherwise strong detective novel. Some of those who write about Kerr’s Bernie Gunther stories comment favorably on the nuanced, in-depth portrait he paints of Germany and the Germans under Nazism. Gunther himself, though no Nazi — in fact, too outspokenly anti-Nazi for his own good — was a member of the SS, having been detailed to the service because of his experience as a police detective in pre-war Berlin. His introspection about his own record in the war, and his interaction with other Germans, in The One from the Other brings to light the evasions and denials and downright lies that so many hid behind once Germany lost the war. And Kerr’s depiction of odious war criminals, including Adolf Eichmann, who figures as a significant character in this book, is fascinating in its depth.

ISBN-10: 0143112295


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Filed under Crime Novels, Mysteries & Thrillers