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Book facts
Bad Monkey
by Carl Hiaasen
(Knopf)
336 pages, $26.95

Hiaasen is armed with tales of Keys

The screaming monkey in a pirate hat on the cover of Carl Hiaasen’s new madcap whodunit makes “Bad Monkey” look like a box of Black Cat fireworks. And that’s entirely appropriate. Set in south Florida and the Bahamas, the novel’s snappy plot and hysterical one-liners make it a perfect book to cram between herding kids and burning burgers.

“Bad Monkey” opens with all the subtlety of an explosive: “On the hottest day of July, trolling in dead-calm waters near Key West, a tourist named James Mayberry reeled up a human arm.” The arm’s hand, by the way, is “contracted into a fist except for the middle digit, which was rigidly extended.”

Enter Andrew Yancy. He was forced to resign from the Miami Police Department after his drunken attempt to blow the whistle on a crooked superior went bad. Now he’s suspended from the Monroe County force for defending his girlfriend’s honor by attacking her husband with a Hoover vacuum.

The sheriff asks Yancy to take the arm to Miami – “the floating-human-body-parts capital of America” – in hopes it’ll be matched to a stiff outside his jurisdiction. But “unless it was paddling itself” against the currents, that arm is where it belongs.

Hiaasen writes affectionately about the Sunshine State’s natural beauty while skewering the tourists and deadbeats who spoil it. Yancy points out, for instance, that a “sea of reeking turds” couldn’t keep divers out of the water during the two-day lobster season. Later, we hear how premeditated crimes in Key West are rare “because they require a level of planning and sober enterprise seldom encountered among the island’s indolent felons.”

The author also fills us in on a few local cons. The most memorable: A crewman hooks a dead sailfish to a hung-over tourist’s line and tosses it overboard. The mighty angler later forks over some dough to have the thing mounted, but the captain made a mold of the fish weeks ago, and he’s been shipping copies to clients who had the same luck. The dead fish, meanwhile, goes back for the next sap.

Reckless real estate development is one of the book’s central issues, and amid all its antics, “Bad Monkey” manages to thoroughly blast rapacious builders who ruin beautiful places with half-cocked plans for lucrative island resorts. Late in the book, Yancy and a Bahamian who’s been pushed off his land by a developer share a beer. “Both were beset by greedy intruders destroying something rare,” Hiaasen writes, “something that couldn’t be replaced.”

Rare and irreplaceable – just like Hiaasen.

John Wilwol wrote this review for Washington Post Book World.

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