What do you get when you combine a Florida health inspector, an unidentified hairy left arm, a crazy Bahamian voodoo witch, and a formerly famous primate with serious behavioral issues? You get Carl Hiaasen’s quirky mystery novel, Bad Monkey.
Set in South Florida, where much of Hiaasen’s writing takes place, one of Bad Monkey’s main characters is Andrew Yancy, a former Miami police officer busted down to Monroe County health inspector for attacking his ex-girlfriend’s husband with a portable vacuum cleaner. Yancy is discretely ordered by the sheriff to deliver an unidentified arm — complete with a hand stiffly flying its middle finger — to the Miami coroner’s office.
At first, nobody is interested in or wants to be responsible for the shark-mangled limb, which was fished out of the ocean by a shocked tourist, but Yancy has a gut feeling it is an omen for something big. When no one else claims possession of the severed arm, he takes it home and stores it in the freezer, right next to his favorite popsicles.
Eventually the arm is identified as belonging to a man who perished in a recent boating accident, and Yancy returns the missing body part to the grieving widow for burial. Yancy doesn’t get a good feeling about the widow, however, and becomes convinced that she killed her husband and that he can solve the crime.
The mystery then moves to the Bahamas and a native man named Neville who has just had his land and home taken from him by a powerful American named Christopher who wants to build a huge resort on the property.
Neville decides to have a local voodoo witch put a curse on the evil American. In exchange, the witch demands that Neville give her his pet monkey, one of the only possessions he has left. The witch has no idea how bad the monkey’s behavior is, but before the end of the book - and to Neville’s amusement, she finds out first hand.
Eventually, Yancy’s story and Neville’s tale come together to form a darkly humorous plot that is filled with bizarre situations and satire. Along the way, every character exhibits inappropriate behavior, faces dangerous situations, and gets what they deserve in the end.
Without a doubt, Bad Monkey is a refreshing departure from a typical mystery novel with cardboard cutout characters and rehashed plots. This story moves along quickly and jumps from one absurd situation to the next seamlessly.
For as silly as the book can be, though, it does have some serious messages — even if they have been disguised with humor. First, Bad Monkey practically screams that man’s “development” of Florida’s beautiful wilderness is destroying it. Secondly, the novel demonstrates through character behavior that being greedy or craving anything “in excess” is dangerous and can make you do unbelievable things.
Overall, Bad Monkey is a solid light read and would make a great addition to your winter reading list. It does have a couple of minor plot issues that appear in its conclusion, but they do not detract from the enjoyment of the story.
If you read and like Bad Monkey, you may want to try Star Island, Nature Girl or Double Whammy, also by Carl Hiaasen.
Additionally, if you want to go even more extreme with offbeat humor, consider checking out one of the library’s titles by author Christopher Moore.
About the Author
Amy Morris is a senior library technical assistant at the Westport Branch. She earned a B.A. in English, with an emphasis in creative writing, from Avila University. Besides reading and writing, Amy enjoys traveling, art, being creative, playing the piano and spending time with her family. She also writes her own blog at livingkansascity.blogspot.com