I was on the train in New York City. It was the middle of the night, my nose buried in Bad Monkey by Carl Hiaasen. Some guy approached me and said “I’m sorry to bother you, I know this is weird, but I just had to tell you I read this book last week and it gets even crazier.”
I was about 100 pages in. Boy, was that stranger right.
Over the years Yancy had conjured many irrational revenge fantasies about Johnny Mendez. For a time he considered seducing Mendez’s wife until he realized he’d be doing Mendez a huge favor. Mrs. Mendez was an unbearable harridan. Her features were a riot of futile surgeries, and she laughed like a mandrill on PCP. Yancy once bought her a margarita at the InterContinental, and for two solid weeks he’d slept with the lights on.”
- These and other such hilarious lines populate Bad Monkey, a Florida Keys murder-mystery.
Carl Hiassen is one of a of a LARGE group of crime writers based in South Florida. Even the subset that he’s part of is pretty big: crime writers based in South Florida who write about South Florida crime. Most of these novelists either put out cozy murder mysteries or police thrillers (the thick ones, good for captivation on long flights and layovers.) Hiaasen is part of the smaller subset that falls somewhere in the middle. He’s landed in the right place.
Bad Monkey kicks off the Yancy series, two books long as of 2018. Old Andrew Yancy is a suspended Florida Keys detective, reassigned as a health department inspector. He yearns to get his old job back for a few reasons, mainly: he’s used to being a cop, he’s a good detective (albeit unruly,) and inspecting dives in the Florida Keys is more gruesome than being a policeman.
Losing his appetite more and more with each restaurant he inspects, he fortunately gets rapped up in solving a new murder. His initial lead is a severed arm that he drives to the coroner as a favor, but his instincts and his wish to be reinstated to the Sheriffs office motivate him to pursue the issue. He uses his very gray and arguable police credentials, along with plain-good snooping and networking, to get to the bottom of the crime.
I partly grew up in South Florida. I wasn’t in the Keys specifically but a lot of passages in Bad Monkey had me beaming with nostalgia and sympathy for the shady place for shady people that is SFL. No, it’s not a comprehensive picture of the region but the world of ’s book sure seemed familiar. Those who are unfamiliar will be properly educated and delight in Yancy’s witty narration.
As one might predict, real estate development is prominent in Bad Monkey. There are a lot of great passages about the frazzled realtor Evan Shook, who has the misfortune of trying to sell a luxury home that is next to Yancy’s dilapidated bungalow (Yancy’s not too great of a selling point either.)
Another of Shook’s significant woes is having to cuddle-up to the snobby prospective buyers who will probably end up passing on the estate next to the wayward cop:
Ken Turble, who preferred to be called Kenny, had made such a killing in the commodities markets that he remained revoltingly wealthy after losing two-thirds of his fortune in a divorce. His new wife, Tanya, was eleven years younger than the youngest Turble offspring. Kenny proudly shared this information with Evan Shook early in the car ride. As a way of backfilling, Tanya yipped, ‘I got a business degree from Kaplan.’.....
Shook has one weak lead after the next - weaker and weaker as bad-neighbor Detective Yancy throws himself deeper into a murder case. We chuckle at his predicament and also pity it. The real estate retirement dream is rife with much failure and a few small victories.
Before long, Evan Shook had set aside his native wariness in order to nurture Ford Lipscomb’s fantasy, which was the boilerplate back-nine fantasy of so many ultra-successful, ultra-resourceful American males: to live by the sea in perpetual sunshine, in a state with no income tax.”
Shook just is unable to sell the dream when it’s next to an eyesore of a property and an eyesore of a man. Yancy’s impediment of the sale next door is intentional, but he only has so much time to pursue it; there’s a murderer on the lose and finding him is Yancy’s way back into the police fore (he thinks.)
He’s an older man who understands these islands below Miami. He understands the people, people in general. They’re like him, restless and carnal:
It was possible that Eve Stripling was too careful to bring her lover to the house, but in Yancy’s experience lust usually triumphed over prudence.”
Yancy actually does develop a serious relationship – with the coroner who examines the severed arm. Her name is Dr. Campesino. Their relationship makes fodder for good personal drama, but it doesn’t overwhelm the narrative.
Hiaasen masterfully carves kind of a miserable tale into one that reads like hi-jinks. Such is the way of the sunshine state. Long may it live.
Yancy needed a moment to absorb the scene.
Buy Bad Monkey on Amazon: https://tinyurl.com/ycrl5za6