The screaming monkey in a pirate hat on the cover of Carl Hiaasen’s new madcap whodunit makes “Bad Monkey” look like a box of Black Cat fireworks. And that’s entirely appropriate. Set in the “gummy, sucking heat” of south Florida and the Bahamas, the novel’s snappy plot and hysterical one-liners make it a perfect book to cram between herding kids and burning burgers this summer.
“Bad Monkey” opens with all the subtlety of an explosive: “On the hottest day of July, trolling in dead-calm waters near Key West, a tourist named James Mayberry reeled up a human arm. His wife flew to the bow of the boat and tossed her breakfast burritos.” The arm’s hand, by the way, is “contracted into a fist except for the middle digit, which was rigidly extended.”
Enter Andrew Yancy, a horny, wise-cracking cop who fantasizes about leveling the monster vacation home going up next door. He was forced to resign from the Miami Police after his drunken attempt to blow the whistle on a crooked superior went bad. Now living in the Keys, he’s suspended from the Monroe County force for defending his future ex-girlfriend’s honor by attacking her husband with a Hoover vacuum.
The Monroe County sheriff, who can’t afford bad publicity, asks Yancy to take the arm to Miami — “the floating-human-body-parts capital of America” — in hopes that it’ll be matched to a stiff outside his jurisdiction. But “unless it was paddling itself” against the currents, that arm is right where it belongs. And Yancy is about as likely to walk away from a murder as he is from a shot of Haitian rum.
A native Floridian and a Miami Herald columnist, Hiaasen writes affectionately about the Sunshine State’s natural beauty while skewering the tourists and deadbeats who spoil it. Yancy points out, for instance, that a “sea of reeking turds” couldn’t keep divers out of the water during the two-day lobster season. Later, we hear how premeditated crimes in Key West are rare “because they require a level of planning and sober enterprise seldom encountered among the island’s indolent felons.”
The author also fills us in on a few local cons. The most memorable is a fishing scam that Hiaasen claims actually happened in Miami: A crewman hooks a dead sailfish to a hung-over tourist’s line and tosses it overboard: “Fish on!” The mighty angler later forks over some dough to have the thing mounted, but the captain made a mold of the fish weeks ago, and he’s been shipping copies to clients who had the same luck. The dead fish, meanwhile, goes back on the boat for the next sap.
Reckless real estate development is one of the book’s central issues, and amid all its antics, “Bad Monkey” manages to thoroughly blast rapacious builders who ruin beautiful places with half-cocked plans for lucrative island resorts. Late in the book, Yancy and a Bahamian who’s been pushed off his land by a developer share a beer. “Both were beset by greedy intruders destroying something rare,” Hiaasen writes, “something that couldn’t be replaced.”
Rare and irreplaceable — just like Hiaasen.
Wilwol is a writer in Washington.