First Posted: 9/19/2014
Once you’ve read “Bad Monkey,” you may never want to visit Florida again, and that would suit author Carl Hiaasen just fine. A lifelong resident of the sunshine state, Hiaasen has lamented in the ravages inflicted on his beloved home by property developers who have decimated its delicate ecology. Interviewed on NPR’s “Fresh Air,” he admitted, “I’ve spent 40 years trying to scare people out of this place.” However, he writes with such guffaw-producing wit that I never feel as if he’s ranting from a soap box. Instead, Hiaasen treats his readers to wild, satirical romps in which the bad guys – crooks, scammers, politicians, developers and murderers – meet satisfyingly grotesque fates.
Each of his 13 novels is set in a different area of Florida. In “Bad Monkey,” the action moves from Key West to Miami, with side trips to the Bahamas. The fun begins when a tourist reels in a severed arm instead of a tuna while fishing off the Keys. Said arm winds up nestled among the popsicles in the freezer of Andrew Yancy, our hero and sleuth du jour. Like Driggs, the story’s bad monkey, Yancy suffers from a lack of self-restraint and a penchant for violence, especially when the objects of his disaffection are scumbags or worse.
Both man and beast fall from grace due to their behavior. Yancy has been demoted to health inspector from his post as detective with the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office after his assault on a former paramour’s husband with a vacuum cleaner. Driggs, who once co-starred with Johnny Depp in “Pirates of the Caribbean,” also has fallen on hard times, possibly due to the fact that he’s a people-biting, poop-throwing, noxious little beast who was caught fondling his privates on the Jumbotron at a Los Angeles Angel’s game.
Yancy’s and Driggs’ stories come together on Andros Island in the Bahamas after Yancy, desperate to get off the “roach patrol,” sets out to find the missing link between the severed appendage and a Medicare scam, with the help of the gorgeous Rosa Campesino, a Miami medical examiner. The arm, it turns out, once belonged to Nicky Stripling, and Nicky’s daughter, sure that her father’s cause of death was no boating accident, hires Yancy to investigate her stepmother, Eve. The grieving widow is now being comforted by a dirt ball who is planning to erect an exclusive hotel complex on Andros.
Driggs now lives there with a local fisherman, Neville Stafford, who actually likes the little monster. Evicted when his home is sold to the developer, Neville hires the notorious voodoo practitioner, The Dragon Queen, to put a hex on the man who has taken his house. One of the book’s more bizarre characters, the obese Dragon Queen, rides around on a motorized scooter chair and is rumored to have hexed her ex-boyfriends into the hereafter. Crazed by rum and goodness knows what else, she believes Driggs, who has lost all his hair because of his addiction to fried foods, is actually a small boy. She is so enamored of the beknighted beast that she insists Neville give her Driggs in payment for her services.
Driggs’ monkeyshines form one of the seemingly endless sub plots of “Bad Monkey.” Yancy’s engender another, and my personal favorite. Like his creator, Yancy was born and raised in Florida, and he loves the beauty of Key West sunsets and the delicate little Key deer that are nearly extinct, thanks to the erasure of their natural habitat by developers and an alarming tendency to become road kill. When a real estate speculator, Evan Shook, erects an enormous spec house next to Yancy’s home, both the view and the deer vanish. Yancy discourages potential McMansion buyers by installing an increasingly revolting series of deterrents in the towering structure: a rotting raccoon carcass, a hive of angry bees, a scary Santeria shrine and a pair of squatters. Needless to say, Yancy’s monkey business leaves Evan Shook all shook up.
A warning: reading this book may cause vertigo. “Bad Monkey” has a byzantine plot and many zany sub plots, not to mention a hurricane, arson, and assorted murder that will have your head spinning. After enjoying many of Hiassen’s books, I’ve come to believe that his trademark tendency toward overkill stems from his fury over the havoc wreaked on Florida by human greed and stupidity. Like most crusaders, he just can’t quit while he’s ahead. However, readers will forgive the many garnishes he adds to this rich stew of a book, since they help escalate the suspense and the humor. While you may find his convoluted plot and jump-cuts from scene to scene unnerving, Hiaasen is so darn entertaining and his characters are so weird that I suggest you just strap yourself in for a wild ride and surrender to the craziness.