Hiaasen’s novel doesn’t reach level of his columns

BAD MONKEY

By Carl Hiaasen

Alfred A. Knopf, $26.95;
317 pp.

Spend $26.95 for the hardback or $12.99 for the ebook (Kindle and Nook) or, better, put your name on the list at the library for the new Carl Hiaasen novel, Bad Monkey. While you’re waiting on the email notification from the library, check out Hiaasen’s early books, Tourist Season, Double Whammy, Skin Tight and Stormy Weather .

Hiassen’s best books were wild, uninhibited tales of the criminally insane and inept roaming through the daily lives of so-called normal people. Readers rooted for “Skink,” Hiaasen’s fictional former governor of Florida who waged war on people Skink, personally, thought were speeding the ruination of his beloved state.

As Hiaasen became a better writer, a more skillful plotter, his stories’ zany factor plummeted. Today, the best Hiaasen novels are written by Dave Barry.

Hiaasen has lots of lines in the water in Bad Monkey.

There’s the presumption of murder, but no corpse, just an arm hauled aboard a charter fishing boat.

There’s Andrew Yancy, a former Miami cop who’s doing time in purgatory as a health inspector. Yancy has been exiled to roach patrol after assaulting his lover’s husband with a vacuum cleaner attachment, publicly in a private place. Yancy sets out to solve what might be a murder in the hopes of getting back on the force.

There’s the book title’s monkey, a Voodoo queen and a sexy coroner so at home at work that she makes love to Yancy on an autopsy table.

Who else? There’s the developer who represents all the bad that’s befallen Florida since Hiaasen’s idyllic boyhood in the land of sunshine. The developer is building a house that blocks Yancy’s view of the setting sun. When Yancy isn’t closing restaurants for exceeding the roach count, he’s coming up with diabolical ways to halt construction of the sunset blocker.

There’s plenty here for a novel, even with what have become the distractions of Hiaasen’s venting spleen over the pollution of Florida’s waterways and development in the Keys that ruins what brought people to the Keys in the first place. Hiaasen’s laments, clever as they are, break the flow of the story. The characters in Bad Monkey compete for the reader’s attention rather than draw the reader into the story.

Hiaasen the novelist grew out of Hiaasen the Miami Herald columnist who still writes about Florida the way the late Mike Royko wrote about Chicago politicians and slum lords. The late Royko and the contemporary Hiaasen may be the last columnists to use “slum lord” as a title before the names of real people.

Read Hiaasen and vintage Barry at http://www.miamiherald.com. That’s right, the best satire in American journalism appears in the same newspaper.

For his trouble, Hiaasen’s life has been threatened by scary people he’s said nasty, funny things about in his column.

Hiaasen’s made his chops. He’s produced some fine, biting journalism and award-winning books for young adults. He can be excused for turning out popular adult fiction that sells well.