Andrew Yancy is extremely pissed off by the bad manners of an absent neighbour who is building a three-story monstrosity on the land next door to his place. This kitsch building is not only ugly and would require 24-hour air-conditioning and temperature control (very environmentally considerate), but is blocking his view of the sunset. The land Yancy and his neighbour are sharing was once the habitat of tiny deer which used to come to feed at close of day. Fortunately Yancy has a few plans of his own which will discourage the poisonous aspirations of the greedy and rather stupid real estate adventurer. Meanwhile, a human arm has been snagged on the line of a honeymooning geriatric tourist who is on a chartered fishing boat in Florida Keys. This decomposing horror ends up in Yancy’s esky, with his popsicles and soft drinks, and then later in his home freezer, with his popsicles and soft drinks. In an attempt to get his job back, ex-copper Yancy tries ingratiating himself with his ex-boss, who is worried that floating body parts might deter the tourists. Despite some plausible explanations for the severed arm from officialdom, Yancy doesn’t buy. He runs his own investigation, which cuts bureaucratic corners, annoys everyone in sight, and of course, observing the conventions of the crime fiction, solves the sordid little crime. This, while he is keeping body and soul together with work as a restaurant inspector which horrifies him almost as much as the construction work going on next door.
As is usual with Hiaasen’s oeuvre, his characters tend to the exotic—Florida and the Bahamas must be a magnet for such colourful people. There’s an ancient nymphomaniacal wheelchair-bound voodoo witch, several very nasty thugs, an ex-schoolteacher who has had an affair with one of her under-aged students and is wanted by the police in the state in which she committed her crime, a black greenie who is doing his utmost to prevent the development of yet another tourist resort on the land which was once his home, and the eponymous monkey, a failed thespian, kicked off the set of Pirates of the Caribbean for some very bad behaviour. Here I feel I must make the point that the females in this tale are much nicer than those in most of Hiaasen’s other books. His femme fatales and even his minor female characters are often such bitches they spoil his stories, for, it’s necessary to understand, if not to empathise, with the main characters in a crime thriller. The problem with making all the ladies such evil pieces of work is that they can become two-dimensional, ultimately unbelievable; it also has the tendency to make the author look like something of a misogynist. In Bad Monkey the bad girls are believable. One can plot their moral decline and accept that that’s what happened. However, I’m not talking about the voodoo queen, here. She is such an eccentric, she seems to be more a part of the lush, tropical setting of the book, than someone you have to get your mind around. And she’s funny. You’ve got to laugh about what happens to one of the thugs who comes into her thrall. And isn’t this part of the lure of the crime thriller. . . the sense of restoring order to a chaotic and often frightening world? The feeling that somehow good may still be able to triumph over evil, even though the media often leaves us with a distinct impression that it doesn’t? The voodoo queen seems more a force of nature, rather than being completely human, and therefore, quite neutral to the outcomes of our little lives.
Those who know Hiaasen’s work will know that humour is its hallmark. He’s funny, very, very funny. There is a touch of out-of-control Raymond Chandler about his stuff. Chandler is ironic, Hiaasen is a belly laugh. However, the downside of Bad Monkey is that you may think twice about eating in a restaurant again. So, if you haven’t already. . . learn to cook.