Book Review: Bad Monkey, by Carl Hiaasen
Florida is a weird place. If you’ve spent any real length of time there, you know exactly what I mean. If you’ve done the occasional Disney vacation or spring break fling, you might even have a slight inkling. All it really takes though is a look at something like Florida Man or Florida Woman. As someone whose ancestry runs through that curious clime, I feel fully qualified to make these statements. For the saner part of the world, however, I direct your attention to Carl Hiaasen. More than anyone else I’ve ever read, Hiaasen captures the abject weirdness of the sunshine state.
Hiaasen may be best known for his kids books, Hoot chief among them, but it turns out he has a whole slew of adult novels as well. This, his latest, takes the zany action which makes his young readers books so popular and ramps it up to adult levels. Whereas Chomp begins with a frozen iguana falling out of a tree, Bad Monkey begins like this: “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.”
And that right there tells you enough about this book. If you laughed, you’ll like it; if you didn’t, well, I’m sure Nicholas Sparks has something new coming out. What Hiaasen has done here is write a reasonable mystery filled with excellent dialogue and hilarious situational humor. His imagination, such as the vacuum-related violence which gets his main character fired from the Monroe County sheriff’s office, is born of the absurdity in which he lives. I mean, you might think it ridiculous that a former police officer in the Keys would keep the aforementioned severed arm in his kitchen freezer, but that would be because you don’t read a lot of Florida news.
Hiaasen manipulates those sorts of moments into well-timed jokes which keep the story both light and moving at speed. He touches on the tension between native islanders and rich transplants, with some environmental concerns mixed in (a staple for his books), but there is little real depth to the story. The characters are largely flat and unchanging, although Yancy shows a subtle maturing from beginning to end. Ultimately what you have here is entertainment. Absurd and mildly vulgar, yes, but pretty darn entertaining all the same. Which really kind of sums up Florida too.