Archive for May, 2013

Bad Monkey by Carl Hiaasen

May 31, 2013 - 9:05 am No Comments

Andrew Yancy is extremely pissed off by the bad manners of an absent neighbour who is building a three-story monstrosity on the land next door to his place.  This kitsch building is not only ugly and would require 24-hour air-conditioning and temperature control (very environmentally considerate), but is blocking his view of the sunset. The land Yancy and his neighbour are sharing was once the habitat of tiny deer  which used to come to feed at close of day. Fortunately Yancy has a few plans of his own which will discourage the poisonous aspirations of the greedy and rather stupid real estate adventurer. Meanwhile, a human arm has been snagged on the  line of a honeymooning geriatric tourist who is on a chartered fishing boat in Florida Keys. This decomposing horror ends up in Yancy’s esky, with his popsicles and soft drinks, and then later in his home freezer, with his popsicles and soft drinks. In an attempt to get his job back, ex-copper Yancy tries ingratiating himself with his ex-boss, who is worried that floating body parts might deter the tourists. Despite some plausible explanations for the severed arm from officialdom, Yancy doesn’t buy. He runs his own investigation, which cuts bureaucratic corners, annoys everyone in sight, and of course, observing the conventions of the crime fiction, solves the sordid little crime. This, while he is keeping body and soul together with work as a restaurant inspector which horrifies him almost as much as the construction work going on next door.

As is usual with Hiaasen’s oeuvre, his characters tend to the exotic—Florida and the Bahamas must be a magnet for such colourful people. There’s an ancient nymphomaniacal wheelchair-bound voodoo witch, several very nasty thugs, an ex-schoolteacher who has had an affair with one of her under-aged students and is wanted by the police in the state in which she committed her crime, a black greenie who is doing his utmost to prevent the development of yet another tourist resort on the land which was once his home, and the eponymous monkey, a failed thespian, kicked off the set of Pirates of the Caribbean for some very bad behaviour. Here I feel I must make the point that the females in this tale are much nicer than those in most of Hiaasen’s  other books. His femme fatales and even his minor female characters  are often  such bitches they spoil his stories, for, it’s necessary to understand, if not to empathise, with the main characters in a crime thriller. The problem with making all the ladies such evil pieces of work is that they can become two-dimensional, ultimately unbelievable; it also has the tendency to make the author look like something of a misogynist. In Bad Monkey the bad girls are believable. One can plot their moral decline and accept that that’s what happened. However, I’m not talking about the voodoo queen, here. She is such an eccentric, she seems to  be more a part of the lush, tropical setting of the book, than someone you have to get your mind around. And she’s funny. You’ve got to laugh about what happens to one of the thugs who comes into her thrall. And isn’t this part of the lure of the crime thriller. . . the sense of restoring order to a chaotic and often frightening world? The feeling that somehow good may still be able to triumph over evil, even though the media often leaves us with a distinct impression that it doesn’t? The voodoo queen seems more a force of nature, rather than being completely human, and therefore, quite neutral to the outcomes of our little lives.

Those who know Hiaasen’s work will know that humour is its hallmark.  He’s funny, very, very funny. There is a touch of out-of-control Raymond Chandler about his stuff. Chandler is ironic, Hiaasen is a belly laugh. However, the downside of  Bad Monkey is that you may think twice about eating in a restaurant again. So, if you haven’t already. . . learn to cook.

Morning Meanderings

May 3, 2013 - 9:42 am 2 Comments

They say that a walk along a beachfront is a kind of meditation. Well, I cannot clear my mind in the way I have been told I should when meditating, for it gets hijacked by many delights along the way. The thing about such a stroll is that it is never the same twice. Each time the tide goes out it creates a different landscape, like an artist at work in a vast, yet intimate, Japanese garden.

This morning, for instance, I was walking along Flinders Parade, “The Front,” which is the edge of  Sandgate, Brighton and Moreton Bay.  I saw a young ibis standing at the far end of a lone wall—part of an ancient swimming pool, perhaps, that has since mostly crumbled away and been reclaimed by the sea—with its wings outstretched. It stood there, motionless, for quite a long time, as long as it took me to walk way past it and then some. It was either drying its wings in the sun or merely enjoying the warmth of a day the weather bureau forecasts will reach 25 degrees. A pleasant temperature by most standards, including, apparently, those of the ibis.

At approximately 11th Avenue, I came across another pleasant surprise. Firstly, I saw an Australian flag atop a pole—which had also lost its context many years ago and is standing in the water. Now I am always wary of  flags. Certainly the Australian flag has some spectacular connotations for me: my adored grandfather, “Ba,” fought at Gallipoli in WWI, and my father in Tobruk and Greece and Kokoda in the Second World War. The flag denoting the presence of Australian soldiers in those wars has always been an honourable marker, regardless of the petty politics which may have put them there. They were fighting as representatives of a whole nation of people—us, we Australians. But unfortunately flags can be appropriated by all sorts of ratbags, and when someone starts waving a flag in my face, I am looking for the nearest exit. Look at the political parties which have usurped the Australian flag for their own tawdry uses. No doubt Mr Clive Palmer will be standing on many rostrums across the country with an Australian flag behind him. Yet he represents only a very small number of Australians, the excessively—even obscenely— wealthy, not you and I. So why should he have access to a flag which represents all of us?

These were the thoughts I had when I stared out over the water at the flag this morning. But then I looked at what was closer, right in front of me, in fact.

The sea wall along Flinders Parade has been reinforced with concrete blocks several times since I have been living in the area, because from time to time it cops a battering from the sea in flood. We’ve had a few floods in the last couple of years and currently there is a gap at approximately where 11th Avenue starts. Beneath this part of the missing wall, there is also a flight of small concrete stairs going down into the water when the tide is in, or to the sand and mud flats when it is out. A local artist who calls himself Sandgate Rick, has placed a small table and a blue canvas director’s chair by this gap after filling it in—though still allowing people access to the stairs—with sand and seashells. He has created a map of Australia, with seaweed, from memory, and has edged the sand and seashell construction with cone shells, all pointing their tips to the sea, like the fringe of a sea shawl. All around the map of Australia he has placed little cairns of smooth stones, indicating peace, and there is a single poppy on the installation as a reminder of ANZAC Day which we commemorated just over a week ago. On the table there is a scattering of tiny shells which hold the pages of a small notebook open. Two or three pens have been left there for people to write their comments. Of course I wrote something, but I have since also checked Rick’s Facebook page to see if he is associated with some razor-toting political group. Happily I couldn’t see any evidence of this, so the next time I take my morning walk along the seafront, I will add more, if it is still there. In the meantime, I would like to thank  Sandgate Rick for offering our community such charming ephemera which becomes part of the treasure we store in our minds, our reflections and the stories we tell to each other. Art begets art.