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Miami vice: Carl Hiaasen takes on corrupt Florida docs



Carl Hiaasen is the best kind of reporter and novelist. He cuts to the heart of an issue quickly, illuminating the corrupt, absurd and twisted products of human greed and stupidity. And Hiassen does so while making you laugh.

Fortunately for those bitten by the Hiaasen bug, he’s a prodigious storyteller. At last count he has 21 novels to his name and a handful of nonfiction books (Team Rodent: How Disney Devours the World should be required reading for every wannabe reporter). And he writes a weekly column for the Miami Herald.

Hiaasen’s literary fecundity is related to the moist and fertile area in which he lives and works: South Florida, a place in which drug lords, corrupt politicians, surgically enhanced nude dancers, steroidal wonders of all kinds, aging Midwesterners, cocaine and meth-addicted white supremacists, alligators and manatees all coexist. Not peacefully, but they’re there.

Las Vegas is a lot like South Florida, in that it is nothing like South Florida, except in our politics, our criminals, our sex industries, our blithe destruction of the environment, our cronyism, our surreal and systemic medical screwups and the quality of our drivers. Florida’s wet and we’re dry, but otherwise, we could be twins. One thing we’re familiar with both in Florida and Southern Nevada, and that is bad medical professionals.

Bad, as in a local doctor who allegedly thinks nothing of sharing a friendly hepatitis virus among 50,000 or so patients; bad, as in a pervert rapist who is allowed to continue his nursing practice, and his molestation of patients, for years (see George Knapp’s column last week).

So we know a bit about corrupt doctors who rip off the elderly and the government, and Hiaasen gives them some special attention in his latest novel, Bad Monkey. Perhaps not so coincidentally, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican elected in 2010, presided over the nation’s largest health-care company when it ran up an astonishing number of felonies and was fined the largest amount for Medicare fraud in U.S. history. Scott and the medical industry have been targets of some of Hiaasen’s deeply funny regular newspaper columns.

Bad Monkey is in many ways a return to form (reminder to self: Stop playing Beastie Boys’ “Brass Monkey” over and over in your head) after his last book, which was aimed at young readers.

The familiar elements of Hiaasen’s adult novels are here: A good guy appalled at the lunacy unfolding around him until he’s saved by a sweet-hearted damsel; the punishing sun and turbulent tropical weather of the Gulf Stream; several animals, including hordes of cockroaches; and, of course, the amputated limb of a bad guy. Hiaasen has a small obsession with amputations; one recurring character, who (sadly, for Hiaasen fans) does not recur in the latest, had his hand severed by a hungry fish and his limb replaced with a weed-whacker.

A few plot points: A police detective is demoted to restaurant inspector after he uses a Dustbuster to give his girlfriend’s husband a vacuum enema; he is assigned to take care of a severed arm that turns up on a fishing-charter boat; the arm points the way to a romantic liaison with an assistant coroner, a trip to the Bahamas, conflict with the afore-mentioned medicinal miscreants. Also, a developer who’s ruining the detective’s view of the sunset gets his just reward. Plus, there’s a hurricane to keep things interesting.

Why doesn’t Las Vegas have any hard-nosed satirists like Carl Hiaasen to keep us amused? This city is ripe for it. Alas, some questions are beyond this pale and timid reviewer. Still, we can look to Florida for some humor amid the chaos while we wait for a desert Hiaasen to rise among us. Until then, we must be satisfied and enjoy the real thing with Bad Monkey.

BAD MONKEY Carl Hiaasen, Knopf, 336 pages