Bad Monkey by Carl Hiaasen (2013, Knopf; 337 pages)
A wealthy Medicare fraudster appears to have died in a boating accident. The only evidence of death is his arm, which is reeled in by a hapless vacationer. Enter Andrew Yancy, late of the Miami police and soon-to-be-late of the Monroe County sheriff's office. He thinks the fraudster was murdered by his wife, and if he can prove it, he might just be able to get his old job back and leave his grisly restaurant inspector gig (it's not called "the roach patrol" for nothing) behind.
But first—this being Hiaasen country—Yancy must negotiate an obstacle course of typically Hiaasenian events with a crew of typically hilarious Hiaasenian characters, including his just-ex lover, a hot-blooded fugitive from Kansas; the twitchy widow of the frozen arm; two avariciously optimistic real-estate speculators; the Bahamian voodoo witch known as the Dragon Queen, whose suitors are blinded unto death by her peculiar charms; Yancy’s new true love, a kinky coroner; and the eponymous bad monkey.
For my money, this is the best Hiassen has done since Lucky You (1997). A huge cast of characters and a stunningly polyfurcated plot offer Hiaasen room to wow readers with often hilarious escapades in grave robbery, restaurant-kitchen horrors, autoerotic asphyxiation, and the actions of an ill-tempered, diaper-wearing monkey. This is Hiaasen doing what he does better than anyone else: spinning a tale at once fiercely pointed and wickedly funny in which the greedy, the corrupt, and the degraders of what’s left of pristine Florida—now, of the Bahamas as well—get their comeuppance in mordantly ingenious, diabolically entertaining fashion.
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Recommended by: Greg
THE LONG GOODBYE -- Chandler's Marlowe in an unforgettable classic tale of friendship, love and betrayal
The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler (Houghton Mifflin, 1953; 384 pages)
Chandler's quintessential private eye, Philip Marlowe, befriends a down on his luck war veteran with the scars to prove it. Then Marlowe finds out that Terry Lennox has a very wealthy nymphomaniac wife, who he's divorced and re-married and who ends up dead. and now Lennox is on the lam and the cops and a crazy gangster are after Marlowe. A moody, brooding masterpiece by the master of the hardboiled detective novel.
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Recommended by: Greg
The Winter of Frankie Machine by Don Winslow (Knopf, 2006; 320 pages)
Categories: Mystery/Thriller; Crime; Mobsters; Surfing
Frank Machianno is a hard-working, blue collar San Diego entrepreneur, father, and surfer, a pillar of his community. Among his many businesses, he owns and runs a bait shop on Ocean Beach Pier. And Frankie also happens to be a retired hit man known as Frankie Machine, a brutally efficient killer for the San Diego mob. Now, someone from his past wants him dead, and after a botched attempt on his life, Frankie must find out who's trying to kill him and why. With the mob on his heels and the cops on his tail, Frank hatches a plan to protect his loved ones, save his life, and leave the mob in his rear view forever. But can he solve the mystery and get the killers before they get him, or worse -- his family?
For my money, the best that Winslow's produced so far, and that's saying a lot. This is a tough, darkly funny thrill ride of a crime novel that grabs you by the throat from the jump and doesn't let go until the last, bullet-riddled word.
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Recommended by: Greg
KILLING SUKI FLOOD -- A load of stolen ball bearings, a bagful of cash, and an army of very hungry ants
Killing Suki Flood by Rob Leininger (St. Martin's Press, 1991; 311 pages)
Trouble. The moment Frank Limosin sees gorgeous eighteen-year-old Suki Flood sitting on the rear deck of the Trans Am in the hot empty desert, he feels trouble in the air. The Trans Am has a flat tire. They're more than ten miles from the nearest highway. And Suki, dressed in short shorts and a tiny halter top, doesn't know how to change a tire. Against Suki's will, Frank gives her a lesson in tire changing, then he thinks that's it, he'll never see her again. How wrong can one man be? Because Suki turns out to be fifty times more trouble than Frank ever dreamed possible. He saved her once. Now he has to save her again and again and again . . .
If Carl Hiaasen and Elmore Leonard had a baby, and that baby went on to write an episode of "The Rockford Files," Killing Suki Flood just might be that episode. Middle-aged trucker Frank Limosin is on the lam from the cops when he meets beautiful 18-year-old Suki Flood in this often diverting, but not-quite-believable first novel. Having sold the load of ball bearings he was supposed to deliver for $77,000, Frank heads for the New Mexico desert to hide out and plan his next move. With misgivings, he picks up Suki, whose car has broken down, and learns that she's on the run too, from a sadistic con-man boyfriend named Mink who has sent a few of his thugs after her. After being beaten up by the henchmen, who take Suki to Reno, Frank hitches from the desert to an airport, rents a plane and rescues Suki, who wants revenge. She and Frank start to gather evidence of Mink's financial misdealings, but are recaptured by Mink, who plans to torture them both to death.
Number 1 on author Ken Bruen's Top Ten Noir Novels list. Bruen writes: "The opening of this novel is perhaps the most hilarious and noir chapter I’ve ever read. The main character, on the run with a camper full of booze and cash, comes across a gorgeous young woman stranded in the desert. He doesn’t exactly help her, but does slowly teach her how to change the tire on her sports car. He is a battered fiftysomething, and she is barely twenty and flighty as a desert wind. The most compelling and beguiling romance develops. The novel also contains one of the most excruciating torture scenes I’ve ever read. You will never quite hear a dripping tap with the same nonchalance again."
Publisher's Weekly said: "Leininger's crisp, snappy dialogue outshines his predictable plotting and inconsistent characterization."
While I wouldn't go quite as far as Bruen in praising Killing Suki Flood, I did enjoy this book quite a bit, more as it went along, in fact. Even through the quite gruesome ending. This book is filled with protagonist Frank Limosin's dark, caustic humor, and, while the whole thing feels, at times, like a middle-aged guy's inappropriate fantasy, it's a very fun ride.
Request this title through Interlibrary Loan: Killing Suki Flood
Recommended by: Greg
The Dawn Patrol by Don Winslow (Knopf, 2008).
Categories: Mystery/Thriller; Private Eye; Surfing
San Diego mysthery/thriller writer Don Winslow (The Winter of Frankie Machine; Savages; The Cartel) offers up a fresh take on the private eye novel with The Dawn Patrol, the first of two (so far) mysteries featuring surfer/P.I. Boone Daniels, and it's a blast. An epic macking crunchy (that's "Surfbonics" for awesome, for you newbies), semi-hard-boiled mystery that takes place in San Diego and environs, aka surf country, U.S.A.
On the surface, the book may look like a breezy summer beach read, but it's more substantial than that, like its hero, the surf-slang talkin', ten-hangin' Daniels. Boone may seem like your typical lazy, laid-back SoCal beach bum, concerned only with catching the next wave or grilling some fish tacos on the beach with his group of likewise laid-back surf buddies, who call themselves The Dawn Patrol (because of their early morning surfing get-togethers). But Daniels -- and the rest of the colorfully nicknamed Dawn Patrol, go deeper than that. For one thing, they have jobs. One, Johnny Banzai, is a cop, and Daniels, himself, is an ex-cop turned private eye, with unsuspected depth of heart, character, and intellect (when he's not hanging ten or crackin' cases he reads the Russian classics). Boone's latest case involves a stripper who fell to her death (or was she pushed?) from a hotel balcony, another stripper who's gone missing, and a captive multitude of trafficked Mexican girls, which echoes a case that haunts Boone from his police days. Can Boone get to the bottom of this sordid affair and sort out his budding romance with the beautiful high-powered lawyer Petra in time to catch the big wave that's heading his way? It's definitely worth your time to find out.
There are real horrors in these pages, tucked in between the surfing stories and splashy beach mystery, and Winslow, who spent years as a real-life private eye and arson investigator in southern California, knows the territory -- the dark, seedy places that exist beneath the shiny gloss of paradise -- and the characters who inhabit those places. The drug dealers and skinheads, gangsters and killers, pimps and johns, exploiters -- and worse -- of women and children. Beautifully interwoven with the darker elements of the mystery are some terrific historical reflections on the culture and history of surfing, and Winslow's wistful ruminations on the good ol' days of surfing, before, in his estimation, The Beach Boys came along and made it popular.
The Dawn Patrol -- anything by Winslow, really -- will appeal to readers of Elmore Leonard. Like Leonard, Winslow is darkly funny, writes laconic, razor-sharp dialog, and fills his pages with pop culture riffs galore. I've also seen Winslow compared to a California version of Carl Hiassen, and there's something to that comparison. But while fans of Hiassen's breezy, hilarious Florida mysteries should definitely enjoy Winslow's surfin' shamus mysteries, The Dawn Patrol is darker stuff, lighter on the humor. Winslow is more willing to plumb the depths of human depravity than Hiassen, who is, to my way of thinking, primarily a humorist working in the mystery/thriller genre. Winslow, on the other hand, isn't as interested in making you laugh. The humor is there, in smaller doses, but he's got more serious fish to grill. And, while his Boone Daniels mysteries (The Dawn Patrol's equally impressive sequel is titled The Gentlemen's Hour) are, perhaps, a bit lighter in tone than, say, his two Mexican cartel novels, The Power of the Dog and its new sequel, Cartel, they still deal with some pretty serious topics -- like sex trafficking of children.
A couple of excerpts from The Dawn Patrol:
The marine layer wraps a soft silver blanket over the coast. The sun is just coming over the hills to the east, and Pacific Beach is still asleep. The ocean is a color that is not quite blue, not quite green, not quite black, but something somewhere between all three. Out on the line, Boone Daniels straddles his old longboard like a cowboy on a pony. He's on The Dawn Patrol.
'Epic macking crunchy.'
That's how Hang Twelve describes the imminent big swell to Boone Daniels, who actually understands what Hang Twelve is saying, because Boone speaks fluent Surfbonics. Indeed, off to Boone's right, just to the south, waves are smacking the pilings beneath Crystal Pier. The ocean feels heavy, swollen, pregnant with promise. The Dawn Patrol -- Boone, Hang Twelve, Dave the Love God, Johnny Banzai, High Tide and Sunny Day -- sits out there on the line, talking while they wait for the next set to come in. They all wear black winter wet suits that cover them from their wrists to their ankles, because the early-morning water is cold, especially now that it's stirred up by the approaching storm.
This morning's interstitial conversation revolves around the big swell, a once-every-twenty-years burgeoning of the surf now rolling toward the San Diego coast like an out-of-control freight train. It's due in two days, and with it the grey winter sky, some rain, and the biggest waves that any of the Dawn Patrol have seen in their adult lives.
It's going to be, as Hang Twelve puts it, 'epic macking crunchy.'
Which, roughly translated from Surfbonics, is a term of approbation.
It's going to be good, Boone knows. They might even see twenty-foot peaks coming in every thirty seconds or so. Double overheads, tubes like tunnels, real thunder crushers that could easily take you over the falls and dump you into the washing machine.
Only the best surfers need apply.
While it's an exaggeration to say that Boone could surf before he could walk, it's the dead flat truth that he could surf before he could run. Boone is the ultimate 'locie' -- he was conceived on the beach, born half a mile away, and raised three blocks from where the surf breaks at high tide. His dad surfed; his mom surfed well into the sixth month of her pregnancy, so maybe it isn't an exaggeration to say that Boone could surf before he could walk.
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Recommended by: Greg