20 July 2013

Hiaasen on the Cake





by John M. Floyd


I have an interesting, if not always accurate, theory. A two-part observation, actually. Country music singers seem to make good actors, and newspaper writers seem to make good novelists. Case in point: Miami Herald journalist and mystery author Carl Hiaasen.  (I won't get into examples of country singers/actors, but I still defend my theory.)

Another observation. Hiaasen has developed a pattern, with the titles of his books: most are two words each. Tourist SeasonDouble WhammySkin TightNative TongueStrip Tease, Stormy WeatherLucky YouSick PuppyBasket CaseSkinny DipNature GirlStar Island. His young-adult novels, oddly enough, feature one-word titles. HootFlushScatChomp.

I've read 'em all. I finished his latest, Bad Monkey, a few days ago. It's a delightful read, with a great setting and an intriguing plot. The location is, as usual, Florida, and this one's set in the Keys, which is even more fun. As for the plot, it's complex but believable, consisting of Medicare fraud, arson, drug trafficking, bribery, murder, and a host of other crimes, and makes for a suspenseful story.

But all that, as good as it is, is only icing on the cake. The main attraction of any Hiaasen novel, the reason most of his fans read him, is his quirky characters. No, make that outrageous characters. And yes, it doesn't hurt that they're residents of the Sunshine State--we already know from Leigh that most of the peninsula can be a loony bin. It's an extension of the old joke-theory that at one point the nation bowed up in the middle and all the loose nuts rolled to both coasts; in popular fiction, those on the east side seem to have rolled all the way down and collected in Florida.

The folks in the latest Hiaasen book remind me of those one might find in a Coen Brothers movie (Raising Arizona, maybe). Here's a sampling of the players in Bad Monkey:



Andrew Yancy -- Former police officer, demoted now to restaurant inspection duty (also known as roach patrol).

Dr. Rosa Campesino -- Miami coroner who yearns for more excitement in her life, probably because all her patients are deceased.

Bonnie Witt, a.k.a. Plover Chase -- sex-offender and fugitive from Tulsa; also Yancy's former (and sometimes current) love interest.

Evan Shook -- Hapless real-estate developer who's attempting to build a McMansion between Yancy's beach house and his cherished view of the ocean sunsets.

Nicky Strickland -- Ruthless killer and con artist, always wears an orange rain poncho. The discovery of his severed arm sets the novel's plot in motion.

Eve Strickland -- Nicky's plump, upscale, greedy, screwball wife.

Sonny Summers -- Lazy but opportunistic sheriff who busts Yancy from detective to roach inspector.

K. J. Claspers -- Freelance pilot who specializes in drug smuggling but isn't really out to get rich. He just loves to fly.

Johnny Mendez -- Retired Miami cop who made a fortune calling in tips about crimes that had already been solved.

Neville Stafford -- Island native engaged in a fight with corporate bullies who want to spoil his natural homeland (a recurring Hiaasen theme).

The Dragon Queen -- Deranged voodoo priestess who tricks Neville into selling her his "bad" monkey.

Cody Parish -- Scatterbrained, lovesick kid who fancies himself the Clyde in Bonnie Witt's criminal escapades.

Egg -- Bald, hulking henchman, real name Ecclestone. He's the Dragon Queen's boyfriend, and one of the book's worst (meaning "best") villains.

Caitlin Cox -- Nicky and Eve's daughter, and just as goofy and conniving as her parents.

John Wesley Weiderman -- Tough but sympathetic FBI agent who mistakenly figured his Key West assignment would be a vacation.

Driggs -- A demented, pipe-smoking, feces-flinging monkey who supposedly once starred with Johnny Depp in his pirate movies and has since suffered a reversal of fortune.



This is only some of the cast. How could a novel populated with characters like that not be fun?

In closing, let me say that I've always enjoyed reading humorous authors: Janet Evanovich, Christopher Buckley, Steve Martin, Charlaine Harris, Kinky Friedman, Douglas Adams, Tim Dorsey, Woody Allen--even Nelson DeMille, who writes novels with serious themes but includes something witty on almost every page. In my opinion, that kind of talent is a true gift.

Carl Hiaasen's one of the best.



13 comments:

Janice Law said...

He's the PG Wodehouse of crime

Fran Rizer said...

Hiassen is always a good read. BAD MONKEY goes on my list of to do's right now!

John Floyd said...

He really IS, Janice. Wish I'd thought of that.

Liz, I think you'd enjoy the book. Most of Hiaasen's humor is about the human condition, a subject on which you're already an expert.

By the way, my wife saw my silly wordplay title for this piece this morning and asked me if I'd lost my mind. Even though it is certainly possible that I've lost my mind, my title was chosen because--as I mentioned--even though Hiaasen's fans love him primarily because of his characters, his plots (the icing I referred to) are really, really good as well. Whether he writes mysteries or thrillers or just crime novels, whatever you choose to call them, his storylines are engaging and FUN to read. And--unlike books by one of my other favorites, Janet Evanovich--every one of Hiaasen's novels is different from the others.

Eve Fisher said...

I love Hiaasen, and as far as your theory goes - well, a guilty pleasure of mine is Dan Jenkins novels. I'm not a huge sports fan, (other than baseball and surfing - there's a combo), but if Dan Jenkins writes about it, I'll give it a try.

John Floyd said...

I too am crazy about Dan Jenkins novels, Eve. Maybe now I won't be embarrassed to tell people that . . .

I heard someplace that the only thing Dan Jenkins takes seriously is humor.

Robert Lopresti said...

I generally go for funny mysteries but I have read two Hiaasen novels and didn't enjoy them. He is too mean for me. (In spite of the fact that Toe Jalleck thinks I am mean!)

Robert Lopresti said...

Oops. Toe Halleck. Slip of the finger.

John Floyd said...

Rob, you're probably right--I hadn't noticed it. But I might be overlooking the obvious. In this latest one at least, I don't recall any meanness, characterwise, except by the three villains.

As for any meanness on the part of the author himself, 37 years of covering Miami news might do that to you.

Toe Hallock said...

Mr. Floyd: Okay, between you and Mr. Lopresti (who actually isn't mean, I just said that to enhance his street cred) I realize I must try this Hiaasen fellow's latest. Ms. Law convinced me with her reference to P.G. Wodehouse. He is one of my favorites. Plus, anything that Ms. Rizer and Ms. Fisher recommend is good enough for me. And Mr. Lopresti, I can imagine which finger slipped. Twice. Yours truly, Toe Hallock.

John Floyd said...

Thanks, Toe. Yep, I think you'd like the book.

Robert Lopresti said...

Toe: hilarious.

Jan Grape said...

Hiaasen is hilarious. My favorite is LUCKY ME. I think that's the title about a lost lottery ticket. But if you like Carl then you must read our Texas, own Ben Behder. First in the six book series, BUCK FEVER,, featuring a Tx Game Warden with a cast of outrageous. & colorful characters. They are set in Blanco County a few miles south of where I live. and Ben lives in Dripping Springs, Texas. they are definitely worth you time.

John Floyd said...

He is now on my list, Jan. Many thanks!