The only decline from Hollywood success potentially more awful than that of a child star is that of a featured cute animal. While the eponymous former film performer of Carl Hiaasen's latest novel, "Bad Monkey," isn't really the hero, he is one of the more memorable and fully developed characters in this enjoyably familiar tropical stew.
The story begins with a classic Hiaasen element: a floater (not a whole body in this outing, just a part). The local sheriff puts the arm on Andrew Yancy, a cop disgraced by an assault on his lover's husband that is also vintage Hiaasen, to take charge of and deliver it to the medical examiner in Miami.
By Carl Hiaasen
But the more Yancy finds out about the severed limb's owner, the purported boating accident that did him in, his not-so-grieving widow and daughter and his dubious business dealings, the deeper he gets into murky waters full of red herrings and dangerous sharks.
The central crime mystery is surrounded by colorful subplots involving Yancy's reassignment as the county health department's restaurant inspector, a sudden and useful romance with the sexy coroner, and battles against real estate developers at home and abroad.
The abroad part is in the Bahamas, where a simple soul named Neville just wants to be left in peace at his home on the beach but gets himself mixed up with a wretched capuchin monkey and a frankly disgusting voodoo witch. His story and Yancy's will eventually be drawn together in the same net, and watching how it's done is part of the fun.
And it is fun. Reading a Hiaasen crime novel is like returning to a favorite amusement park ride -- you know what to expect, but it's always a rush. "Bad Monkey" has all of the ingredients Hiaasen fans come back for: sharp dialogue, vivid and quirky characters, fishing and fresh seafood, rapier satire, delicious tanned women fresh from the shower or bath, brilliantly funny turns of phrase, comic-book violence, poetic justice, persistent bugs and sex.
There are just a few things that disappointed this fan, though. Mr. Hiaasen's central heroes always tend to be straight-arrow types whose common sense and honesty stand in contrast to the avaricious and often stupid villains, but Yancy has almost no detectable personality at all beyond being a smart-aleck.
Similarly, his love interest, Rosa, is gorgeous, smart, and foolishly brave but falls short of Mr. Hiaasen's usually perceptive portraits of sympathetic women characters. In fact, she's almost a stock male-fantasy ideal lover -- for most of us, being kidnapped and nearly raped in a foreign country with a hurricane bearing down is not a prelude to mind-blowing sex.
Yancy is also libidinous to an almost tiresome extent. As a reader, I do care whether he is ultimately going to get both his badge and his appetite back, but just barely. He's a bit heavy on the id and a bit light on the character development that would make him more real and likable.
I'm not sure what to say about the Bahamian dialect. I get that it helps create a sense of place and is true to the characters who speak in it, but I'm not completely comfortable reading lines like "You cont 'rest nobody here in de Bahamas." It's ultimately a distraction, although I honestly don't know how to avoid it.
The bottom line is that "Bad Monkey" is not at all bad, but if you've never read a Hiaasen crime novel before, you probably shouldn't start with this one. If you're already a fan, dive right into this page-turner. You'll be hooked.bookreviews
Samantha Bennett (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a freelance writer and Post-Gazette columnist.