BOOK REVIEW: “Bad Monkey” is both a rollicking murder mystery and an elegy to the Florida that is fast disappearing.
“On the hottest day of July, trolling in dead-calm waters near Key West, a tourist named James Mayberry reeled up a human arm.” And with that line, we are off on another reliably strange mystery by author and Florida native son Carl Hiaasen.
“Bad Monkey” (Alfred A. Knopf, 317 pages, $26.95) follows Andrew Yancy — a police detective busted down to restaurant inspector — who has a hunch that there’s more to the story of the dismembered arm than a solo fishing trip gone awry.
Yancy, whose new job has left him with no appetite and a distinctly cadaverous appearance, is desperate to return to police work, and thinks solving the mystery will do the trick. (The fact that the Monroe County sheriff would rather not admit any crime occurred is just one more problem to overcome.) So Yancy sets off to the Miami medical examiner — Miami being “the floating-human-body-parts capital of America,” after all — to see if a body has surfaced to match the arm.
As he did with national bestsellers “Strip Tease” and “Tourist Season,” Hiaasen aims his jaded eye and barbed tongue at the hapless idiots who seem to have overtaken his beloved state: “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 there’s more to “Bad Monkey” than oddball characters and zippy lines. Hiaasen’s love for the Florida being lost to development, overcrowding and McMansions is impossible to miss, such as when Yancy ruminates on the small herd of white-tailed Key deer that used to frequent the neighboring lot now being defiled with an oversized spec house: “They were fantastically small and delicate-looking. … Only a few hundred of the deer remained, roaming a handful of islands … but the animals were hapless when it came to avoiding cars, especially at night.” Yancy used to watch the deer when they appeared, but he didn’t “snap pictures, or whistle, or make up cute names for the fawns. He just sat there sipping rum and watching the deer do their thing.”
When a woman reports her husband missing and the arm turns out to be a match, Yancy is suspicious of the bereaved widow’s story, especially because she and her husband were being investigated for a massive Medicare scam involving the “Super Rollie” mobility scooter and a raft of fake patients.
Unraveling this madcap tale requires Yancy to travel to Andros Island in the Caribbean, where the widowed Eve Stripling and a shady boyfriend are planning to develop a luxury resort on an unspoiled beach. There, Yancy survives an encounter with an ill-mannered, pipe-smoking monkey and a voodoo-spewing Dragon Queen, while trying to regain his spot on the police force and, ideally, the pristine view from his yard.
Event: Carl Hiaasen will read at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Burnsville Performing Arts Center, 12600 Nicollet Av. S., Burnsville, as part of Club Book.
Colleen Kelly is the Star Tribune’s mobile and social media editor.