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Review: 'Bad Monkey' a good book from Carl Hiaasen

We know we're in Carl Hiaasen country from the first sentence of Bad Monkey: "On the hottest day of July, trolling in dead-calm waters near Key West, a tourist named James Mayberry reeled up a human arm."

It's all there — not just Hiaasen's trademark Florida setting but his signature deadpan mix of rue and glee at the insanity of the human condition in the Sunshine State. The big dog of the literary form that a recent New Yorker article dubbed "Florida glare" (as opposed to noir), Hiaasen serves up satisfaction in his 13th novel for adults.

It will be revealed that the severed, slightly shark-gnawed arm belongs, or belonged, to one Nicholas Stripling. Nicky made a fortune selling Super Rollie scooters to Medicare clients — some of whom actually existed — until the day he disappeared while out on his fishing boat, Summer's Eve (its name a nod to his wife despite its unfortunate echo of a feminine hygiene product).

Once the tourist has snapped pics of the arm for his Facebook page, custody of the limb is entrusted to Andrew Yancy, suspended from the Monroe County Sheriff's Office and currently on roach patrol. Yancy got booted from the force to the restaurant inspection beat after he attacked the husband of his "future former girlfriend," deploying a handheld vacuum cleaner on a tender area of his rival's anatomy in full view of tourists swarming at Mallory Square.

Now Yancy is counting insects and scoping out rat droppings in restaurant kitchens up and down the Keys. (Warning: You might not want to snack while you're reading this book.) But he longs to get his old job back, and Stripling's may be just the helping hand he needs, even if it did go into rigor mortis with its middle finger extended.

Delivering the limb to the Miami morgue has one positive effect immediately: It introduces Yancy to Dr. Rosa Campesino, a lovely forensic pathologist with a macabre sense of humor and a lively libido — Yancy's kind of woman.

Of course, he has another woman to consider: that future former girlfriend, Bonnie Witt. She's not who he thought she was — literally, because she's a fugitive and former teacher with the suburb-esque moniker Plover Chase and a conviction for bedding one of her students.

He's also fretting over the guy who is building a code-defying four-story spec McMansion on the lot next to Yancy's old waterfront bungalow on Big Pine, blocking his sunset view and scaring off the Key deer. Timely deposits of such items as roadkilled raccoon in the structure when prospective buyers come for tours have helped, but Yancy needs a permanent solution.

As he freelances his way into the investigation of Stripling's death, a charter boat's mate is shot, and so is a sleazy doctor — murders that might be connected to the case.

And what about that titular monkey? Over in the Bahamas, a gentlemanly fellow named Neville is unhappy because his half sister has sold their family home, on Green Beach on Andros Island, to an American couple who want to tear it down and build a resort. The female half of that couple is Eve Stripling; the male half is her unpleasant boyfriend, whom Neville is trying to drive away by employing the Dragon Lady, a formidable and sexually voracious voodoo practitioner.

But the Dragon Lady demands a high price. She wants Neville's pet monkey, a capuchin named Driggs, despite the creature's "septic disposition" and vicious biting. Perhaps it's the critter's show-biz credentials: Rumor has it that, before the monkey's fur fell out because of a nutritionally deficient diet of johnnycakes and conch fritters, it starred in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies with Johnny Depp.

Hiaasen's last novel for adults, Star Island, was set in Miami and was appropriately frenetic. Bad Monkey has a slightly more leisurely island pace, although what with grave robbers, autoerotic asphyxiation, fatal curses, a hurricane and that very bad monkey, there's plenty going on. Yancy is a likable and resourceful hero — at one point he uses his fly-fishing skills to fend off an attacker — as is Neville, a man kind-hearted enough to love a poo-flinging primate.

All around them the author arrays his satirical targets, from Medicare fraudsters to greedy developers, and, as the plot twists and turns like a hooked bonefish, Hiaasen's own eccentric brand of justice is satisfyingly served.

Colette Bancroft can be reached at cbancroft@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8435.

Bad Monkey

By Carl Hiaasen

Alfred A. Knopf, 317 pages, $26.95

Review: 'Bad Monkey' a good book from Carl Hiaasen 06/29/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 25, 2013 4:58pm]

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