By Heidi Simmons
by Carl Hiaasen
With a colorful menagerie of out-post and out-law characters, Carl Hiaasen’s, Bad Monkey (Knoff, 317 pages), is a south Florida tale that delivers humor and mystery that makes one laugh and cringe.
The story is about Andrew Yancy who has been demoted from the police department after an obscene attack on his lover’s husband with a cordless vacuum cleaner in front of a crowded cruise ship.
Yes, Yancy has anger management issues as well as problems with women. Living in the Florida Keys, his lover is a fugitive wanted in Oklahoma for having sex with her minor student. Something Yancy decided to overlook as a cop because of the great sex.
The small community of Big Pine Key and most of Monroe County is corrupt – not because they’re evil people, but because of the laid back nature of the place. They’re lazy, it’s hot and it won’t make much of a fucking difference.
To avoid an embarrassing public trial, Yancy is given a plea deal for his act of cordless sodomy. He is ordered not see the wife and he must give up his badge. Neither goes away very easily.
Stuck at home smoking pot and drinking rum, he is seething. It is not over the vacuum incident, but rather the construction of a 7,000 square foot spec home that is blocking his sunset view. The builder bribed code enforcement and the house is nine feet higher than allowed. Yancy secretly does his best to sabotage the property before prospective buyers enter the premises.
After a local food inspector dies of food poisoning, the position is offered to Yancy as a way to keep his salary. He is encouraged to take the job as a means to possibly be reinstated with the police department some day. As the new food inspector, he refuses to be bribed and is not intimidated to shut down filthy restaurants. He quickly looses weight because he won’t eat — afraid of food after what he sees during routine inspections.
When tourists on a charted fishing trip pull a human arm out of the sea while, the Sheriff asks Yancy, as a favor, to get rid of it. For the sheriff, the arm is too much trouble and not worth the paper work. Yancy is instructed to lose it somewhere. But the good cop in Yancy can’t dispose of evidence and he decides to take the arm to the Miami coroner. The coroner is a beautiful spitfire. Soon, she and Yancy become involved with the mystery of the arm and each other.
Out of Miami’s jurisdiction and unable to discard the arm, Yancy keeps it stored in his freezer until one day the widow comes to collect it for burial. Yancy is suspicious and believes there is far more to the story.
Turns out, before her husband died, he was wanted for insurance fraud. He was bilking the U.S. government out of millions of dollars selling motorized wheelchairs to people who never ordered them.
On his own, in hopes to get back into the good graces of the police department, Yancy investigates what he believes is certainly a murder. Using only his food inspector’s badge as identification, he pursues bad guys and follows dangerous clues.
He and his coroner girlfriend go to the Bahamas where they hope to get answers to break open the case in order to get the attention of those who can actually make arrests. Something a food inspector just cannot do. There, they get far more than what they expected and all hell breaks loose.
On a small Bahamian island, they meet a bad monkey, a nympho voodoo queen, a cauliflower-eared barbarian, a beach bum, a drug smuggler and a serious hurricane. Crazy shit happens and in the end, Yancy gets the bad guy, the girl, his view, but not his police job.
The beauty of a story like Bad Monkey is the joy of meeting people who want to be good, but find it too damn challenging. These are people who need a “grey area” because it’s the only way to get what you want. It is a matter of survival. What’s the harm of a little compromise? Right?
The protagonist, Yancy, isn’t a real bad guy per se; he indeed has a moral barometer. It’s just that he hates injustice and well, sometimes you just have to cross a line to balance the scales. Who can’t relate to that? The reader is easily manipulated to understand Yancy’s motivation. Can’t really blame the guy. Or can we?
As Yancy delves deeper into the mystery, he discovers there is perhaps moral justice. The “badder” one acts, the worse the punishment — and it has nothing to do with law enforcement. There is a cosmic justice and that is something Yancy can live with.
Bad Monkey is witty and satirical. We enter not only a quirky world, but also a weird sub-culture and loose lifestyle. Hiaasen’s humor comes naturally. The many kooky and unlikely characters are tied together in unusual ways making the story a wild ride. It is somewhat predictable, but there are plenty of pleasant surprises.
The bad monkey in the story is the former primate movie star from the film series Pirates of the Caribbean. But the little Capuchin has hit rock bottom. His owner deliberately “surrenders” him in a domino game. He lost his acting job and most of his fur all because he lacks self-control. The monkey fights and scratches his way through life hoping someone will love him just the way he is. I believe this is Andrew Yancy’s story as well. He’s the real bad monkey.