Severed limbs, disgraced cops and corruption in paradise… this rollicking mystery is a blast of dark fun in the sun, Ben East writes in this review for The Guardian‘s magazine, Observer.
The titular bad monkey is a nappy-wearing, virtually hairless capuchin with an “unnerving resemblance to a psoriatic human delinquent”, who may or may not have starred in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. The “hero” is a former detective reluctantly downgraded to assiduous restaurant inspector, after very publicly sticking the end of a vacuum cleaner up the bottom of his lover’s husband. Meanwhile, on a Florida Keys fishing trip, a bickering couple catch not a fish, but a severed arm – with its middle finger rigidly extended.
And we’re off, on another typically enjoyable Carl Hiaasen mystery, taking in voodoo queens, Medicare scams, property pranks and that monkey, belonging to a disenchanted fisherman from the Bahamas, Neville.
Hiaasen’s novels of misadventure in south Florida have been dubbed too formulaic of late. Bad Monkey, however, feels like a return to form. As soon as the former detective, Andrew Yancy, now spending his days crushing the cockroaches he uncovers in restaurant kitchens, gets wind of foul play he spies a way of getting his old job back. Naturally, the severed arm doesn’t belong to an unfortunate man who fell off an expensive boat and Yancy’s unlicensed investigations lead him to the Bahamas.
If it all sounds faintly ridiculous, that’s the point. As always, ex-reporter Hiaasen is as concerned with the political and commercial follies of the Florida he knows and (sometimes) loves. There’s a neat mirroring of the characters of monkey-owning Neville and the dogged Yancy – both feel helpless as expensive building developments threaten to destroy their way of life. Hiaasen also pierces the self-serving attitudes of town hall and police administrators, and the scam through which the arm surfaces is, apparently, absolutely true, but even if it wasn’t, the pithily sceptical way in which Hiaasen’s prose dances through the narrative makes the most ridiculous examples of excess and corruption seem more than credible.
If there is a criticism, it’s that the expert twist (of the rare kind, one that provokes a disbelieving reread) draws the story to an end rather quickly, yet Hiaasen takes a further 100 pages to tie up all the loose ends: a slightly underpowered denouement, given how engaging Bad Monkey has been until to that point.
Perhaps he was enjoying tearing into Florida’s insect-ridden summer so much he couldn’t quite leave it behind. Certainly, Bad Monkey feels set up for Andrew Yancy to return to crime solving; if so, the restaurateurs of south Florida will be able to rest just a little easier.
For the original report go to http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/jun/22/bad-monkey-carl-hiaasen-review