Monday, June 24, 2013

Carl Hiaasen "Bad Monkey"

Long term fans will come to Carl Hiaasen’s latest south Florida mystery knowing, more or less, what to expect, and while there’s something different in the approach (it’s as close as Hiaasen’s likely to get to a police procedural), and the plot line strays beyond the Florida state line (but only as far as the Bahamas) virtually everything else is reasonably familiar.

This time around Hiaasen’s protagonist is Andrew Yancy, who’s had issues with the Miami Police Department and now finds himself in the Sheriff's bad books in Key West after he assaulted the prominent dermatologist who's married to his future former girlfriend. He’s of the opinion that the husband had a bad case of bees up the bum, and had attempted to fix the problem, in public, with a vacuum cleaner. It was, apparently, all over YouTube in a matter of minutes.

As a result of a plea bargaining deal and a suspended sentence, he's been reassigned as a restaurant inspector, on the roach patrol and the things he finds in Key West kitchens is making him physically ill. He has, to all intents and purposes, stopped eating, and is also engaged in an ongoing struggle against a neighbour building a monumental spec house that contravenes the local planning regulations, will tower over his more modest home and cut off his view of the sunset across the Gulf of Mexico. It has already scared away the little Key Deer population.

In true Hiaasen fashion, the steps he takes against the neighbour involves scaring off potential buyers, planting dead raccoons, hives of angry bees, Santeria shrines, and, lastly, his ex-girlfriend and her new beau on the premises. He’s not above using his own misfortunes as well when he becomes entangled in another matter.

But that’s back story.

You know you’re in familiar territory as soon as you read the opening paragraphs:
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. 
After calming herself, Louisa Mayberry remarked that the limb didn't look real. 'Oh it's real,' said James Mayberry, 'Just take a whiff'. Snagging a fake arm wouldn't make for a good story. A real arm was major high-fives from all his peeps back in Madison. 'You caught a what? No way bro!'

The arm, as a DNA match reveals, belongs to entrepreneur Nicky Stripling, who made millions billing Medicare for nonexistent electric scooters called Super Rollies to non-existent senior citizens. Florida, the reader learns, is the Medicare-fraud capital of America, where the most experienced dirtballs came to gorge ... the slickest and slimiest —  former mortgage brokers, identity thieves, arms dealers, inside traders and dope smugglers. Stripling’s done pretty well out of it (he’d socked away eleven-plus million dollars) but, if the severed arm’s to believed, has been lost at sea and ended up as a shark’s lunch.

Yancy, on the other hand, suspects foul play. The victim’s wife, who stands to inherit a fortune, doesn’t ring true and the victim’s daughter accuses her step-mother of doing away with her husband to collect the two million dollars’ insurance money. There’s also the possibility, if there is foul play involved, that he’ll get his old job back if he can crack the case.

That’s not the way his boss, Sheriff Sonny Summers (who won office because he was the only candidate not in federal custody) sees it. As far as he’s concerned, the severed arm needs to be delivered to the Miami Medical Examiners office, given the fact that Miami is the floating-human-body-parts capital of America, and the severed limb won’t do much for tourism in Key West.

Miami, on the other hand, don’t want it either. It doesn’t match any known victim, it was found outside their jurisdiction, and the currents probably wouldn’t have carried anything originating in or near Miami to the Keys, which, basically is why Yancy ends up with a human arm alongside the Popsicles in his freezer.

Oh, and the shark teeth embedded in the flesh are from an inshore variety that doesn't frequent the area where the arm was found.

The trip to Miami, however, hasn’t been a complete waste of time since it put him into contact with pathologist Dr. Rosa Campesino, who has a penchant for hot sex on a cold mortuary slab kinky sex in locations like slabs.

Meanwhile it seems Bonnie, his former girlfriend, who still seems to have the hots for Yancy, is really Plover Chase, a Tulsa English teacher who’s on the run after being convicted of extorting sex from one of her students in exchange for giving him an A on his report card.

Hiaasen novels tend towards the ornate when it comes to unusual subplots.

Yancey’s investigation has him moving back and forth between Key West, Miami and the Bahamas, which is where he meets the eponymous Bad Monkey, a nasty little creature named Driggs who’d been the official “Rally Monkey of the Los Angeles Angels” but lost the gig after a scrotum-grooming reverie, broadcast live on the stadium Jumbotron.

Sold off to a freelance animal wrangler, he’s ended up in the Bahamas as a backup to another, more docile simian, on one of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies but a repeat of the execrable antics that had cost him the Angels gig saw him sold for seventy-five Bahamian dollars to a sponge fisher who passed him on to a gullible fisherman named Neville Stafford.

Living on a diet of batter-fried chicken, conch fritters and coconut cakes, Driggs loses most of his hair and is traded to voodoo priestess the Dragon Queen when Neville needs a spell cast on the property developer who’s managed to bump him off his property, which is about to become part of a timeshare resort.

The property developer appears to be Stripling’s widow’s new boyfriend, which, of course, adds to the suspicions about her husband’s death, and that’s about as far as we can go without crossing over into spoiler territory.

Bad Monkey mightn’t be Hiaasen at his best (I had a feeling all the way through that I’d enjoyed other titles more, but nothing concrete to base that suspicion on) and might lack the outrageousness that lands on the page as soon as The Skink appears on the scene but it’s still a wickedly funny read where the good guys, despite everything outrageous fortune and the weather can throw up against them, ultimately prevail.

You knew they would, of course, and though the outcome isn’t really in doubt it’s the journey that delivers the reader there that makes a Hiaasen novel an ingenious entertainment.

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