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.
The 5 best novels I’ve read in 2012
Truth to tell, I haven’t read all that many trade novels during the past year, and, anyway, in general I tend to stay away from the literary “masterpieces” trumpeted so loudly by the likes of the New York Review of Books and the New York Times Book Review. More often than not, I find the darlings of the literary set are writing not for me but for, well, the literary set. I’ve seen far too many impenetrable tomes lauded as fine literature. Give me a good, gripping story any day of the year, and I’ll gladly forego pretty much any one of the Booker Prize winners of recent years. I truly enjoyed reading all five of the books listed below.
1. They Eat Puppies, Don’t They?, by Christopher Buckley
Political satire of the highest order. I found myself laughing hysterically, sometimes for pages at a time. But, like all superior satire, this book isn’t just funny — its droll treatment of politics in Washington and Beijing is spot-on accurate.
2. The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi
One of the best science fiction novels I’ve ever read. Set in Bangkok in the 23rd century, this wildly inventive story examines humanity’s plight once the oceans have risen twenty feet, and most of the human race in in thrall to the American and Chinese “calorie companies” that have killed off virtually all traditional sources of food with genetically engineered plagues.
3. The Fear Index, by Robert Harris
A chilling novel set in Geneva, where a brilliant and eccentric American physicist has teamed up with an unscrupulous English financier to use the scientist’s breakthrough techniques in artificial intelligence to manipulate the financial markets.
4. The Orphan Master’s Son, by Adam Johnson
The Orwellian story of a North Korean “tunnel rat,” trained in kidnapping and hand-to-hand combat in the tunnels leading under the DMZ to South Korea, who briefly becomes a confidante of the country’s elite military commanders and of the Dear Leader himself, only later to find himself confined to a prison mine, where citizens who run afoul of officialdom are worked to death underground.
5. Incendiary, by Chris Cleave
A deeply unsettling novel structured as an open letter to Osama bin Laden from a devastated young mother whose husband and young son have died in a massive terrorist attack on a soccer game in London.
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