Bad Monkey (Hiaasen)

Bad Monkey
Carl Hiaasen, 2013
Knopf Doubleday
336 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780446556149

Andrew Yancy—late of the Miami Police and soon-to-be-late of the Monroe County sheriff’s office—has a human arm in his freezer. There’s a logical (Hiaasenian) explanation for that, but not for how and why it parted from its shadowy owner.

Yancy thinks the boating-accident/shark-luncheon explanation is full of holes, and if he can prove murder, the sheriff might rescue him from his grisly Health Inspector gig (it’s not called the roach patrol for nothing). But first—this being Hiaasen country—Yancy must negotiate an obstacle course of wildly unpredictable events with a crew of even more wildly unpredictable characters, including his just-ex lover, a hot-blooded fugitive from Kansas; the twitchy widow of the frozen arm; two avariciously optimistic real-estate speculators; the Bahamian voodoo witch known as the Dragon Queen, whose suitors are blinded unto death by her peculiar charms; Yancy’s new true love, a kinky coroner; and the eponymous bad monkey, who with hilarious aplomb earns his place among Carl Hiaasen’s greatest characters.

Here is Hiaasen doing what he does better than anyone else: spinning a tale at once fiercely pointed and wickedly funny in which the greedy, the corrupt, and the degraders of what’s left of pristine Florida—now, of the Bahamas as well—get their comeuppance in mordantly ingenious, diabolically entertaining fashion. (From the publisher.)

Razor Girl (2016) is Hiaasen's sequel to Bad Monkey.

Author Bio
Birth—March 12, 1953
Where—Plantation, Florida, USA
Education—B.A., University of Florida
Awards—Newbery Honor Award
Currently—lives in Tavernier, Florida

When one thinks of the classics of pulp fiction, certain things—gruff, amoral antiheroes, unflinching nihilism, and a certain melodramatic self-seriousness—inevitably come to mind. However, the novels of Carl Hiaasen completely challenge these pulpy conventions. While the pulp of yesteryear seems forever chiseled in an almost quaint black and white world, Hiaasen's books vibrate with vivid color. They are veritable playgrounds for wild characters that flout clichés: a roadkill-eating ex-governor, a bouncer/assassin who takes care of business with a Weed Wacker, a failed alligator wrestler named Sammy Tigertail. Furthermore, Hiaasen infuses his absurdist stories with a powerful dose of social and political awareness, focusing on his home turf of South Florida with an unflinching keenness.

Hiaasen was born and raised in South Florida. During the 1970s, he got his start as a writer working for Cocoa Today as a public interest columnist. However, it was his gig as an investigative reporter for the Miami Herald that provided him with the fundamentals necessary for a career in fiction. "I'd always wanted to write books ever since I was a kid," Hiaasen told Barnes & "To me, the newspaper business was a way to learn about life and how things worked in the real world and how people spoke. You learn all the skills—you learn to listen, you learn to take notes—everything you use later as a novelist was valuable training in the newspaper world. But I always wanted to write novels."

Hiaasen made the transition from journalism to fiction in 1981 with the help of fellow reporter Bill Montalbano. Hiaasen and Montalbano drew upon all they had learned while covering the Miami beat in their debut novel Powder Burn, a sharp thriller about the legendary Miami cocaine trade, which the New York Times declared an "expertly plotted novel." The team followed up their debut with two more collaborative works before Hiaasen ventured out on his own with Tourist Season, an offbeat murder mystery that showcased the author's idiosyncratic sense of humor.

From then on, Hiaasen's sensibility has grown only more comically absurd and more socially pointed, with a particular emphasis on the environmental exploitation of his beloved home state. In addition to his irreverent and howlingly funny thrillers (Double Whammy, Sick Puppy, Nature Girl, etc), he has released collections of his newspaper columns (Kick Ass, Paradise Screwed) and penned children's books (Hoot, Flush). With his unique blend of comedy and righteousness ("I can't be funny without being angry."), the writer continues to view hallowed Florida institutions—from tourism to real estate development—with a decidedly jaundiced eye. As Kirkus Reviews has wryly observed, Hiassen depicts "...the Sunshine State as the weirdest place this side of Oz.

• Perhaps in keeping with his South Floridian mindset, Hiaasen keeps snakes as housepets. He says on his web site, "They're clean and quiet. You give them rodents and they give you pure, unconditional indifference."

• Hiaasen is also a songwriter: He's co-written two songs, "Seminole Bingo" and "Rottweiler Blues", with Warren Zevon for the album Mutineer. In turn, Zevon recorded a song based on the lyrics Hiaasen had written for a dead rock star character in Basket Case.

• In Hiaasen's novel Nature Girl, he gets the opportunity to deal with a long-held fantasy. "I'd always fantasized about tracking down one of these telemarketing creeps and turning the tables—phoning his house every night at dinner, the way they hassle everybody else," he explains on his web site. "In the novel, my heroine takes it a whole step farther. She actually tricks the guy into signing up for a bogus ‘ecotour' in Florida, and then proceeds to teach him some manners. Or tries. (Bio fom Barnes & Noble.)

Book Reviews
Any fears that Carl Hiaasen might be mellowing are put to rest by Bad Monkey, another rollicking misadventure in the colorful annals of greed and corruption in South Florida…Hiaasen has a peculiar genius for inventing grotesque creatures—like the monstrous voodoo woman known as the Dragon Queen and Driggs, a scrofulous monkey "with a septic disposition"—that spring from the darkest impulses of the id. But he also writes great heroes like Yancy and Neville.
Marilyn Stasio - New York Times

Hiaasen combines familiar themes with an inspired cast in this exercise in Florida zaniness. Andrew Yancy, who became an ex-cop after publicly assaulting his girlfriend’s husband with a vacuum cleaner attachment...soon gets a chance at redemption.... [A] severed, shark-bitten arm,...some real estate shenanigans, a voodoo witch, and a deranged monkey, and you have another marvelously entertaining Hiaasen adventure.
Publishers Weekly

A severed arm that a visiting angler hooks off Key West kicks off Hiaasen's 13th criminal comedy.... [T]he encounter Andrew Yancy has with Miami Assistant Medical Examiner Rosa Campesino, which ends with him taking the arm back home and parking it in his freezer, starts to change his attitude toward the case. Unfortunately, it doesn't change the fact that he's been suspended from the Sheriff's Department.... Not as funny as Hiaasen's best (Star Island, 2010, etc.), with a title character more vicious than amusing, but still the gold standard for South Florida criminal farce.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
Use our LitLovers Book Club Resources; they can help with discussions for any book:

How to Discuss a Book (helpful discussion tips)
Generic Discussion Questions—Fiction and Nonfiction
Read-Think-Talk (a guided reading chart)

Also, consider these LitLovers taking points to help get a discussion off the ground for Bad Monkey:

1. What are some of the issues that Carl Hiaasen, as a satiric writer, takes aim at in Bad Monkey? Start with official corruption, Florida developers...and go from there.

2. Why does Andrew Yancy decide to keep the severed arm in his freezer rather than discard it as the sheriff orders? What prompts his subsquent interest in the case?

3. Hiaasen writes,"Yancy believed that maintaining cultural authenticity was less important than creating a vivid first impression for potential home buyers." Talk about Yancy's stunts to scare off buyers from the unfinished house that could block his ocean view. Over the top? Distracting from the main plot? Or hilarious?

4. Follow-up to Question 3: Are there too many subplots in Bad Monkey? Or do you think, as Janet Maslin of the New York Times does, that even with the proliferation of plots and characters, Hiaasen's novels are "beautifully constructed"? (New York Times, 6/17/2013).

5. One of the methods Hiaasen uses to deliver his humor is his calm, understated tone. Point to some of the lines you find particularly funny in Bad Monkey.

6. What do you think of Driggs? What about some of the other (human) characters—what do you make of them? Do any in particular stand out, one way or another?

7. Is this a comedic novel...or a serious novel?

8. Political commentator and humorist P.J. O'Rourke once wrote that "reading Carl Hiaasen will do more to damage the Florida tourist trade than anything except a visit to Florida." What exactly does he mean...and, once you've figured that out, do you agree with him?

Hiaasen himself said in a New York Times interview with Deborah Solomon,

The Florida in my novels is not as seedy as the real Florida. It's hard to stay ahead of the curve. Every time I write a scene that I think is the sickest thing I have ever dreamed up, it is surpassed by something that happens in real life. (New York Times, 6/25/2004)

If you are familiar with Florida, is either comment (O'Rourke's or Hiaasen's) about Florida accurate, or even fair? Does Hiaasen present a realistic portrait of the state...or a jaded, cynical one? Could this novel (or any of his novels) be written about another area of the U.S., or the world? Or is it somehow peculiar to the Sunshine state?

9. How would you describe Carl Hiaasen's view of humanity? Why does he draw so many of his characters as grotesque caricatures? Do any of his characters earn your admiration or sympathy?

10. If you've read other books by Carl Hiaasen, how does this one compare? Opinions are all over the map as to whether Bad Monkey lives up to, or perhaps surpasses, his previous works. What do you think?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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