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Onyx reviews: Bad Monkey by Carl Hiaasen

There's a lot going on in Bad Monkey, the latest caper novel from humorist Carl Hiaasen. At times it seems like the book can't possibly hold any more plot, and then it does.

Andrew Yancy is a former member of a south Florida police department. He's suspended after he assaults his lover's husband with a vacuum cleaner hose in the most humiliating way one might imagine. Instead of being dismissing, he's ultimately reassigned to a different department: he becomes a restaurant inspector. As a result of some of the disgusting things he finds while carrying out his duties, he stops eating.

He's still a cop at heart, though, so when a tourist on a fishing charter reels in a man's arm, his curiosity spikes. No one wants to have anything to do with the limb, though. It's bad for tourism in Key West and the Miami police won't take it since the death occurred outside their jurisdiction. Yancy thinks the limb is suspicious. There's a mark where the arm once sported a fancy watch and the shark teeth found embedded in the flesh are from a shore-dwelling variety that doesn't frequent the depths where the arm was found.

When he's not on the job, Yancy is a laid-back dude. He smokes dope and hangs out at his waterfront home. However, lately he's been fuming because a real estate speculator has been building a house that blocks his view. The building is going to be much taller than allowed by zoning regulations, which tells Yancy that the fix is in. When he's not chasing down clues, he's doing his level best to sabotage the project. He also has women problems, including an awkward but ongoing relationship with the woman whose husband he assaulted (who may, in fact, be on the lam for her own indiscretions) and a flirtation developing with the Miami coroner who is helping him investigate under the table.

The plot gets quite complicated and is, of course, highly improbable. Hiaasen isn't after verisimilitude. He simply wants to make readers laugh. Yancy discovers a link between the arm and a man who ran a medicare scam involving mobility scooters. His wife, who stands to inherit a fortune, acts suspiciously and the man's daughter accuses the woman of having something to do with his death. A short while later, though, once she's promised a cut of the life insurance money, the daughter withdraws her accusation.

The cast of quirky characters grows by leaps and bounds. The story shifts back and forth between Florida and the Bahamas, where a resident of one of the lesser islands has been bumped off his property by developers who are constructing a timeshare on his family lot. He refuses the substantial financial settlement because he doesn't need much money. He simply wants his home back. To further complicate the situation, there's also a tropical storm bearing down on the Bahamas.

Enter the bad monkey, a simian who, according to the legend, appeared briefly in at one of the Pirates of the Caribbean films before being dismissed for ugly behavior. The monkey gets passed around to various owners over the course of the book, including a voodoo queen who has an unhealthy fascination with the animal. He's mean-spirited and prone to bad habits, and he isn't exactly pivotal to the plot, though he does intervene from time to time like a simian version of Puck. He's reminiscent of the monkey that once appeared on a season of Friends—he must have seemed like a good idea at the time.

Yancy's job affords him the freedom to continue his unauthorized investigation. More people are killed, solidifying his belief that the man whose arm ended up on the end of a fishing rod didn't simply go down with his ship.

Comedy is hard and works best at shorter lengths than this book. There came a point about 2/3 of the way through Bad Monkey when it seemed like everything was wrapping up, but there was a healthy chunk of pages remaining. The book is funny, mostly because of Yancy's antics, but it would have been better if it had been shorter and more focused.

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