Bad Monkey

By Carl Hiaasen

(Knopf, $26.95, 336 pages)

Who is this author?

Carl Hiassen is South Florida born and bred, and he finds seemingly limitless inspiration from his native state and the weird events that go on there. He’s written a dozen other novels, including the best-sellers “Lucky You,” “Nature Girl,” “Sick Puppy,” “Skinny Dip” and “Star Island” as well as four best-selling children’s books, “Chomp,” “Flush,” “Hoot” and “Scat.” His nonfiction includes “The Downhill Lie: A Hacker’s Return to a Ruinous Sport.” Hiassen got into the news biz as an investigative reporter and still writes a weekly column for The Miami Herald. He also keeps snakes as house pets, pointing out, “You give them rodents and they give you pure, unconditional indifference.”

While his novels feature absurd characters in even-more-absurd situations, he is dead serious about social, political and environmental malfeasance. As he told one interviewer: “I can’t be funny without being angry.”

In that case, stay very angry, Carl.

What is this book about?

Hiassen invents another delightful crop of misfit wackos in “Bad Monkey,” and that includes the titular animal, a mangy Capuchin named Driggs, who once “acted” in a Johnny Depp “Pirates of the Caribbean” film. Driggs is pretty nasty, but cannot compare to an aging voodoo priestess, the Dragon Queen, for unpleasant personal habits. Also along for the ride: Egg, a hulking, not-too-bright hitman; Nick Stripling and his wife Eve, two Medicare fraudsters who graduate to murderous criminality; Nick’s greedy daughter Caitlin;  Evan, a witless spec home builder; Bonnie, a sex-mad ex-teacher and former lover of our hero, Andrew Yancy. He’s a former detective who has been busted to the “roach patrol,” as restaurant inspectors are known in South Florida, for attacking Bonnie’s creepy husband with a portable hand vac inserted where even Sunshine State sunshine don’t shine.

Andrew is aided by his new love interest, medical examiner Rosa Campesino, and Neville, a Bahamian fisherman with a good soul. Andrew and Neville share a love of the Florida Keys and Bahamian islands, unspoiled but endangered places the author also reveres. This wild tale of murders, arson, fraud and cockroaches in the conch stew is powered, as are so many of Hiassen’s books, by a simmering anger at what mindless overdevelopment is doing to some of our last remaining pieces of Paradise.

Why you’ll like it:

Don’t just get mad, get funny. That seems to be Hiassen’s mantra, and it really works. He sets up complicated murder mysteries that keep you glued to the page, but he is really interested in laying bare the scams and frauds and avarice that plague Southern Florida like those rapacious pythons that are taking over the Everglades. But he’s never preachy – instead, he creates hilarious people that really are characters in the “weird person” sense of the word, and sets them loose in improbable but oddly logical plots. He also creates lively, to put it mildly, dialogue, that often involve a brilliantly use of profanity too vivid to quote in a family book blog. His novels make you laugh out loud, but they also make you think.

He told a Barnes & Noble interviewer that being an investigative reporter for The Miami Herald helped him in writing fiction:

“I’d always wanted to write books ever since I was a kid. To me, the newspaper business was a way to learn about life and how things worked in the real world and how people spoke. You learn all the skills — you learn to listen, you learn to take notes — everything you use later as a novelist was valuable training in the newspaper world. But I always wanted to write novels.”

What others are saying:

Kirkus Reviews says: “A severed arm that a visiting angler hooks off Key West kicks off Hiaasen’s 13th criminal comedy. …the encounter Andrew Yancy has with Miami Assistant Medical Examiner Rosa Campesino, which ends with him taking the arm back home and parking it in his freezer, starts to change his attitude toward the case. Unfortunately, it doesn’t change the fact that he’s been suspended from the Sheriff’s Department and banished to the gruesome post of restaurant inspector. But once the arm is identified as that of developer Nicholas Stripling, Yancy….takes it on himself to question Nicky’s wife, Eve, his estranged daughter, Caitlin Cox, Eve’s sworn enemy, and several other concerned parties. When two of these parties are shot to death very shortly after their chats with Yancy, he knows he’s onto something…, Yancy takes Rosa along to follow the arm’s trail to Lizard Cay, Bahamas, where more crazies await: a toothless voodoo priestess called the Dragon Queen, her hapless client Neville Stafford, whose troubles bear an uncanny resemblance to Yancy’s own, and his companion Driggs, a monkey reputed to have worked on the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. The mind-boggling plot will require yet another Hiaasen hurricane, a house fire, several perp walks for diverse felonies and a healthy dose of cleansing violence to bring down the curtain. … still the gold standard for South Florida criminal farce.”

In The New York Times Book Review, Marilyn Stasio says: “Any fears that Carl Hiaasen might be mellowing are put to rest by “Bad Monkey,” another rollicking misadventure in the colorful annals of greed and corruption in South Florida…Hiaasen has a peculiar genius for inventing grotesque creatures—like the monstrous voodoo woman known as the Dragon Queen and Driggs, a scrofulous monkey “with a septic disposition”—that spring from the darkest impulses of the id. But he also writes great heroes like Yancy and Neville…”

Says Publishers Weekly: “Hiaasen …combines familiar themes with an inspired cast in this exercise in Florida zaniness. Andrew Yancy, who became an ex-cop after publicly assaulting his girlfriend’s husband with a vacuum cleaner attachment, is now on “roach patrol” as a restaurant inspector, but he soon gets a chance at redemption. Sonny Summers, the new Monroe County sheriff, tells Yancy to take a severed, shark-bitten arm snagged by a fisherman to Miami, where DNA identifies the limb as belonging to Nick Stripling, a retiree in his 40s whose boat was wrecked at sea. Stripling’s grown daughter, Caitlin Cox, claims after the funeral that her hated stepmother murdered her father, and Yancy sees proving the stepmother’s guilt as a way to return to the force. Add in some real estate shenanigans, a voodoo witch, and a deranged monkey, and you have another marvelously entertaining Hiaasen adventure.”

When is it available?

“Bad Monkey” is brightening the shelves at the Downtown Hartford Public Library and its Barbour, Camp Field, Park and Ropkins branches.

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