RogerBW's Blog

Bad Monkey, Carl Hiaasen 12 March 2015

2013 Florida Weird. On Key West, former Miami cop Andrew Yancy has a human arm in his freezer. But there's a reason for that. Yancy thinks the story about the arm's owner dying in a boating accident is full of holes, and sets off on an unofficial investigation.

Carl Hiaasen more or less invented the subgenre of Florida Weird, so it's a little disappointing to read this latest entry into it; there's nothing wrong with it, exactly, but it does sometimes feel a bit like a jug of well-mixed Greatest Hits with a dash of worcester sauce.

What Hiaasen's done best has always been utterly self-absorbed characters with poor impulse control, and there are plenty of them here, from Yancy's ex-girlfriend Bonnie to the Bahamian security guard Eggs via a voodoo queen, a crooked cop, a non-grieving widow and daughter, and the titular monkey who may or may not have been in Pirates of the Caribbean. As usual for Hiaasen, they all have their own desires and goals, and when a disruptive influence is introduced they all set about trying to make use of it by whatever means seems easiest.

The typical Key West murder is a drunken altercation over debts, dope or dance partners. Premeditated robbery-homicides are rare because they require a level of planning and sober enterprise seldom encountered among the island's indolent felons.

But most of the previous books have stayed in or around Florida; this one shuffles back and forth between there and the Bahamas. That's quite close by, of course, only a few hundred miles from the Florida coast, but it feels as though it's outside Hiaasen's comfort zone, with some things too similar to the standard Floridian setting and other things too different from it. If the whole world can be like Florida, what was so special about setting stories in Florida in the first place?

There are no characters from previous books here, but Yancy isn't so very different from most of Hiaasen's other protagonists. He's messed up his life, he has inadvisable sex, he despises his neighbour who's building a huge house that blocks the view and frightens off the local wildlife. The others… well, they get heavy-handed. The asshole doctor Clifford Witt is also into autoerotic asphyxiation. The corrupt cop has a horrible harridan of a wife. (Indeed, none of the female characters comes off well here.) The bad guys come to a bad end not because of cleverness by our heroes but because they mess up. But there are still gems, like Yancy inspecting a restaurant:

"Wait a minute." Yancy walked over to the stand-up freezer and pointed with the toe of his shoe. "Is that a tail? Tell me that's not a tail."

"Goddammit," said Brennan.

Someone had slammed the freezer door on a rat.

"Least it's not alive," Lombardo observed. He was very much a glass-half-full breed of civil servant. "Come on, Andrew, have a heart."

The writing's still good, but the spark isn't quite there. There's no epilogue describing what happened to the characters, and perhaps that's part of the problem: too many of them feel as though they were wheeled on stage for just this one showing rather than having lives before and after this adventure. (Which of course they were, but they shouldn't feel that way.)

If you haven't read earlier Hiaasen, read that. If you have, read the first four or five novels by Tim Dorsey. If you've read all of that and still demand more Florida Weird, come back here; it's not bad, but it shouldn't be at the top of your list.

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