Crazy characters combine with zany plot in Hiaasen novel

2013-06-29T07:00:00Z 2013-07-03T23:27:07Z Crazy characters combine with zany plot in Hiaasen novelBy Harry Levins Special to the Post-Dispatch

Medicare fraud is a serious problem. And given Florida’s density of old people, Medicare fraud is especially serious in that state.

Then again, if a book about Medicare fraud has Carl Hiaasen listed as its author, “serious” is an adjective that’s out of place. Hiaasen writes comic novels set in his home state of Florida, and “Bad Monkey” is as comic as they come.

As the book opens, a tourist from Wisconsin has chartered a fishing boat and hauls in an unusual catch — a human arm. Accident or murder?

The case attracts Andrew Yancy, a disgraced former police detective now making a living in the Florida Keys as a restaurant sanitation inspector. From there, the plot grows zanier and zanier — yes, it involves Medicare fraud — with long stretches given over to crazy characters, including the monkey of the title.

As usual in Hiaasen’s stories, Florida itself plays a big part in the prose. At one point, he muses, “The typical Key West murder is a drunken altercation over debts, dope or dance partners. Premeditated robbery-homicides are rare because they require a level of planning and sober enterprise seldom encountered among the island’s indolent felons.”

Which is fortunate, because Hiaasen describes the local sheriff this way: “He was well-groomed, courteous and diligent about his paperwork. One year he led the whole force in DUI arrests, a highly competitive category in the Keys. His spelling on arrest forms was almost always legible, he never took any of his girlfriends on dates in his squad car and he smoked pot only on his days off.”

Florida tourism and development officials surely groan whenever Hiaasen produces another of his wacky works set in their state. But readers will enjoy packing “Bad Monkey” along to the beach.

Even in Florida.

Harry Levins of Manchester retired in 2007 as senior writer of the Post-Dispatch.

‘Bad Monkey’

A novel by Carl Hiaasen

Published by Knopf, 317 pages, $26.95

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