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Review: Bad Monkey, By Carl Hiaasen

Even a gem needs a bit of a polish

A tourist on a fishing trip reels in a decomposing arm; a detective uses a vacuum cleaner to attack a love rival's posterior; and a house sale is stymied by a bee hive, a sexual predator, and a Santeria sacrifice. So far, so crazy.

Carl Hiaasen, a columnist for The Miami Herald, has been the king of Florida noir for three decades now, though his novels of late (Star Island, Nature Girl) have lacked the brio and tight plotting of his earlier exploits.

With Bad Monkey, Hiaasen has rediscovered some of the delirious ingenuity that previously distinguished his work – although the structure could have done with a polish.

The protagonist is the vacuum-wielding cop, Andrew Yancy – a character who, like Hiaasen, is obsessed with the desecration of the Florida Keys. Demoted to "roach patrol" – restaurant inspector – for his crime of passion, Yancy takes it upon himself to solve the mystery of the severed arm in an attempt to win back his badge.

Everyone the policeman comes across seems involved in some sort of scam – from scandal-ducking politicians to swaggering reprobates making a mint off Medicare – as his unofficial mission sees him variously confront the Russian mob, a hitman in an orange poncho, and a Bahamian voodoo lady.

In the main, the action flows swiftly, though it is occasionally brought to a crashing halt by unnecessary, incidental additions: a vignette, for instance, about a decapitated fictional country-music star that is detailed enough to include a name, backstory and modus operandi, but which achieves little but to puzzle. It's odd – almost as if Hiaasen had too many ideas for humorous deaths and decided to include them just in case his readers have attention-deficit disorder.

Furthermore, the portion of the novel set in the Bahamas is hindered by Hiaasen's decision to render all dialogue in an unyielding patois that is close to unreadable. Meanwhile, a major island sub-plot involving the loss of pristine nature to an asinine real-estate investor is far too heavy-handed in its mirroring of Yancy's own troubles on the mainland.

The detective himself is enough of a charismatic goof to maintain the interest – it's just a shame that, because of the stops and starts, Bad Monkey is unable to elicit the all-consuming exhilaration that made Hiaasen's work of 20 years ago so special.