Audiobook Review: Bad Monkey by Carl Hiaasen

24 06 2013

Bad Monkey by Carl Hiaasen

Read by Arte Johnson

Random House Audio

Length: 11 Hrs 25 Min

Genre: Florida Thriller

Quick Thoughts: Bad Monkey should have just left off the monkey part and kept the appropriate label… BAD BAD BAD! It’s a shame that Hiaasen’s latest is such a mess, and I found it entirely inappropriate for a time where we are actively discussing a culture that downplays sexual assault that he uses such an act for comedy and continually marginalizes the victim as justification for the attack.

Grade: D-

There was a phase, back in the 90’s, during college and a few years afterwards that I fell out of the habit of reading fiction. During this time, I was working long hours, often hitting a bar or something after finishing a shift, ran home, crashed and started it all over again. Then one day, while browsing through a Waldenbooks, I saw this hideous purplish cover with a cartoonish green alligator on a book called Tourist Season. Just reading the back blurb, I was hooked. I instantly fell in love with Carl Hiaasen’s writing, and with a strange genre that seemed to exist solely within the state boundaries of the Sunshine State. Hiaasen, Paul Levine, James W. Hall, Tim Dorsey and of course, John MacDonald really got me back into the reading thing. In fact, I have a reputation as a Speculative Fiction guy, but it was these types of Florida Thrillers that defined a big chunk of the 90’s for me. Hiaasen obtained, at that time, most favorite writer status in my mind. When we hit the oughts some of the shine wore off and I started transitioning back to my first love, horror but I still maintained an appreciation for Hiaasen even though the books didn’t impact me as much. What I always loved about Hiaasen was that he managed to create these characters that, on some level, lived outside the law, but kept the moral high ground. Their actions were extreme, eco-terrorism, menacing behavior towards douchebags and even murder, but there always seemed some level of righteousness to it. Then I began listening to Bad Monkey. Hell, I should have loved this, right? Monkeys! But I kept listening, and becoming angrier and angrier, just frustrated and I couldn’t really put my finger on why. Suddenly, about two thirds of the way through, it dawned on me why. Instead of a sort of rebel with a cause, Hiaasen’s latest characters is an egotistical, morally degenerate loser who is part of the establishment, and committed a morally reprehensible act that Hiaasen not only justifies, but uses it for levity. OK, stay with me people. This may get a bit bumpy. 

Andrew Yancey is upset. Suspended from his job as a Policeman and forced to work as a Restaurant Inspector, he will do anything to get the job he deserves back. So when a severed arm is discovered to be the only evidence left of a tragic death, Yancey smells opportunity. If he can prove the shady widow actually killed her husband, he will win the love and affection of the press, and most importantly his buddy the police chief and get his beloved job back serving and protecting the people of South Florida. I want to say first, I am not a very triggery person. There are a few things that often bother me in books enough to cause instant hatred, one is the sexual exploitation of children. Any attempt to lessen the horrendousness of these acts will cause me to toss any book aside. Yet, I tend to try to keep a relatively open mind to things, and have a decent affinity for scatological humor but when I finally realized what bothered me about Bad Monkey, beyond the rambling plot, unlikable characters, and cut and paste mystery, I was mad at myself for not realizing it sooner. You see, Andrew Yancey didn’t deserve to lose his job. All he did was sexually assault another man with a vacuum cleaner attachment. HAHAHAHAHA!!!!!! Isn’t that hilarious? Sexually humiliating a man by what Yancey says was nothing more than a High Colonic. He does this, of course, in public, in front of tourists who captures it and post it to YOUTUBE! Comic Gold! I mean, why suspend this guy? Can’t people take a joke? Let’s face it, Yancey’s victim deserved to be sexually humiliated and violated. Why? Because the guy got upset when he discovered Yancey was having an extramarital affair with his wife. Yes. Yancey punished the man whose wife he was sleeping with by shoving a vacuum attachment somewhere not so nice. And I’m supposed to like this guy and feel bad that instead of being instantly fired, arrested and at the very least held accountable for his action, he is given another government job, one he doesn‘t like as much. Yeah, poor guy. To make things even worse, Hiaasen continues to point out all the victim’s sexual deviancy, for example, his penchant for autoerotic asphyxiation, because we all know that people who practice untraditional forms of self pleasure probably deserves to be sexually assaulted. I was truly angry about this, and I’m not someone who angers very easily. Honestly, if this was one brief incident, I probably would have let it go, but Hiaasen continues to harp on the act for comic relief and as a way to make you feel for Yancey. It had the opposite affect on me. Fact of the matter, I don’t think I would have liked Bad Monkey anyway. He uses “American Pie” style sexual humor, like kinky 50 Shades and mortuary sexplay, a masturbating monkey and other such nonsense as a replacement for his typical quirkiness. Yancey’s quest was basically a pointless exercise in narcissism, and he probably committed as much harm as the criminals he was chasing. He relies heavily on stereotypical Caribbean caricatures for his few interesting characters and the ending was a big fizzle of nothingness. In the end, it seemed the only character whose journey had a net positive result was the one I hated the most. Bad Monkey should have just left off the monkey part and kept the appropriate label… BAD BAD BAD! It’s a shame that Hiaasen’s latest is such a mess, and I found it entirely inappropriate for a time where we are actively discussing a culture that downplays sexual assault that he uses such an act for comedy and continually marginalizes the victim as justification for the attack.  

This is my first time listening to Arte Johnson performing a solo narration of an entire book, and ummmm… No. It just didn’t work for me. I’ve loved some of his work in shorter burst before, but here, the entire thing was just too slow, too dependent on stereotypical accents and just utterly unengaging. His accents and vocalizations didn’t seem consistent, particularly in his portrayal of the Puerto Rican Coroner whose accent fluctuated from slightly Hispanic to straight from Havana, despite saying she grew up in New Jersey.   I constantly struggled with the narrator/content continuum in this book. Would I have liked the book more if I the narration was better, maybe a narrator I really enjoy like Oliver Wyman or Peter Berkrot? Would I have liked the narration more if I didn’t find the entire story unfocused, and pretty much offensive? I’m not sure. I tend to give the benefit of the doubt to Johnson. Maybe this just wasn’t the right fit for him, or maybe he was struggling with the book in the same way I was. Overall, Bad Monkey was just an unpleasant listening experience, one which I am not sure why I continued listening other than the fact that is was from one of my formerly favorite authors. Maybe I can now block out the experience.

Thanks to Random House Audio for providing me a copy of this title for review.





Audiobook Review: The Onion Book of Known Knowledge: A Definitive Encyclopaedia of Existing Information

31 12 2012

The Onion Book of Known Knowledge: A Definitive Encyclopaedia of Existing Information

Read by Avery Sandford and June Bunt

Hachette Audio

Length: 3 Hrs 46 Min

Genre: All Knowledge That Exists

Quick Thoughts: If like me, you are looking for the definitive collection of all of the universe’s information in an easy to use, 4 hour long audiobook, in order to impress the ladies, The Onion Book of Known Knowledge: A Definitive Encyclopaedia of Existing Information may be a disappointment. The Onion, known for its comprehensive style, vigorous fact checking, and inexpensive newspaper printed on tasty jerky style paper, may just have dropped the ball here. If you are looking for laughs due to the sheer audacity and incompetence of some of the entries, well, you might have something here.

Grade: Incomplete

As a connoisseur of audiobooks I only have about 50-60 hours in any given week for listening purposes, so I must be conscientious of what I stick into my earholes. Because of this, I spend a good portion of every day carefully considering what I will listen to, weighing in my personal preferences, what I feel the reader(s) of my blog would like me to review, and what pretentious titles I can brag about to impress the ladies, just incase I am ever invited to one of those high society parties I occasionally read about in said pretentious titles. So, despite the fact that I almost only read fictional titles, I decided to take a chance at a nonfiction title, The Onion Book of Known Knowledge: A Definitive Encyclopaedia of Existing Information, for two reasons. First off, I used to be a total news junky, reading the newspaper, magazines, watching the daily local broadcasts and waiting patiently for the town crier.  Yet, I became disheartened by the unethical behavior of the modern news source, whether it be the political slants of nation news outlets, the influence of prominent local businessmen on the local news, or the vendetta of the local town crier due to one unfortunate case of food poisoning. Then I discovered The Onion who offered news that no one else would carry without the hampering of political slant or adherence to governmental fairness doctrines. The Onion brought me straightforward commentary on the rise of witchcraft among Harry Potter Fans as well as the often misinformed, potentially racist ramblings of the everyman who has the right to have their thoughts shared with the world simply for walking in the general vicinity of an Onion reporter. The second reason I decided on this title is simple, one of my life goals has always been to know everything. I consider myself knowledgeable and well read, yet occasionally, at parties and such, I find someone who knows something that I don’t. This really is unacceptable. If someone knows something, I should know something. I mean, I am not going to get lucky with the ladies based on my looks or charming personality, so all I have left are the facts. I believed that The Onion Book of Known Knowledge: A Definitive Encyclopaedia of Existing Information would be just the thing that would give me an edge up with the ladies who don’t judge a potential mate on good looks or charm. Or Money. Or a pleasant singing voice. Well, I digress. Or focus.

I must admit, despite my love for The Onion and desire to be accepted by this fine enterprise as a peer, I came away disappointed with The Onion Book of Known Knowledge: A Definitive Encyclopaedia of Existing Information. When I first began, I was so excited that all of the world’s knowledge would be delivered to me in less than 4 hours in audiobook form. Yet, I was surprised that this supposedly Unabridged Version skipped over some very important topics, like The Netherlands, Cheese (Fondue or Not Fondue), Unitarianism, and Flatulence. I also felt many of their entries were less that complete. For instance, the entry on John Wilkes Booth went on and on about his career as an actor and his performances, but never mentioned the most important fact about him, that he appeared this season as a character on the BBC America TV series Copper. This definitive book of Knowledge often broke away from its role as an Encyclopaedia, and offered values judgments, even comparing the assholes of Philadelphia, my home and brothers in assholery, to the assholes in Boston. Any Philadelphia knows we are more akin to Midwestern assholes from cities like Cleveland and Detroit to those jackholes from Boston who can’t pronounce a simple r sound. I also had to look with some levels of skepticism at their claims for the origins of many of the letters. Well, more like boredom. Why didn’t they just shut up about R and get onto the important topics like The Rapture, its date and just how Christian I have to be to actually not get left down here on earth with the losers? Now, there were come excellent moments to the audiobook. Their handling of the Literature entries and giving each of the three categories Fiction, Non-Fiction and Stephen King comprehensive focus was refreshing. Also, their appreciation for the fine work of The America Folk Art Museum was moving. Yet, too many problems just saturated the text. Their tactful attempts to handle religion led to offending people who believe that their religion is the right one and everyone else is doomed to eternal torment in a fiery pit with demons and thusly alienating a key demographic. Also, their obvious distain for other sources of information like Almanacs, dictionaries and informational pamphlets just came off petty. So, if like me, you are looking for the definitive collection of all of the universe’s information in an easy to use, 4 hour long audiobook, in order to impress the ladies, The Onion Book of Known Knowledge: A Definitive Encyclopaedia of Existing Information may be a disappointment. The Onion, known for its comprehensive style, vigorous fact checking, and inexpensive newspaper printed on tasty jerky style paper, may just have dropped the ball here. If you are looking for laughs due to the sheer audacity and incompetence of some of the entries, well, you might have something here.

The Onion Book of Known Knowledge: A Definitive Encyclopaedia of Existing Information was narrated by two skilled voice artists, Avery Sanford who handled the masculine entries and June Bunt who handled the feminine entries. While they both had strong voices I had mixed feelings about their performances. Avery and June blended a strong matter of fact new style reminiscent of the greats of American broadcasting with whiney douchebaggery. While I can appreciate whiney douchbaggery in a fictional literary title about Trust Fund kids whose parents cut them off after they discover them with an once of weed, or even in a cutting edge nonfiction title about Dallas Cowboy fans who have never even been to Texas, but when reading Encyclopaedia Entries it makes me want to bludgeon them with a baseball bat autographed by Phillies Hall of Fame Third Baseman Mike Schmidt. Yet, despite the fact that they could seem like douchebags, and may have been hopped up on pharmaceuticals, there were also some touching moments, like Avery’s emotional reading of the classic poem “Lonely” to June’s…. well, I’m sure June did something good as well. Overall, I listened to almost four hours of their clapptrappery and by the time I finished my eardrums were not ruptured, and what more can you ask for from two audiobook narrators?





Audiobook Review: The Exterminators by Bill Fitzhugh

2 02 2012

The Exterminators: An Assassin Bug Thriller by Bill Fitzhugh

Read by Tom Weiner

Blackstone Audio

Length: 9 Hrs and 36 Min

Genre: Satirical Thriller

Quick Thoughts:Fans of Carl Hiaasen and Tim Dorsey will definitely find a lot to like in The Exterminators, in fact, anyone who enjoys a good laugh, a well plotted thriller and a book that will make you think should add The Exterminators to their reading lists.

Grade: A-

Bill Fitzhugh used to be one of my favorite writers. OK, that probably sounds a bit harsh, so I will elaborate. I love Bill Fitzhugh’s books, but in a way he fell off my radar for a bit. The last Bill Fitzhugh book I read was about 6 years ago, called Highway 61 Resurfaced. It wasn’t my favorite book of his, but I still enjoyed the heck out of it. It was actually one of the last books I read before I transitioned from an exclusively print reader to someone who consumed most of his books through audiobook form. Since then, Fitzhugh has only released one novel, which he co-wrote with the county musicians Brooks and Dunne, and for some reason, I just never picked it up.  Yet, when I heard Fitzhugh was releasing a new novel, it put a nice big smile on my face. When I discover that the new book was going to be a follow up to his wonderful novel Pest Control, I let out a girlish squeal. When I heard it would also be released in audiobook form from one of my favorite audiobook production companies, Blackstone Audio, my squeal was accompanied by a dance of joy that scared the neighbors and sent my dog to his favorite hiding place under the bed. Now, if you are a fan of well plotted thrillers with a satirical edge that will make you laugh as it makes you think, you should give Pest Control a try, oh, and don’t forget Cross Dressing (which may be my favorite Fitzhugh novel) and Heart Seizures, oh, and Fender Benders, … oh heck, check them all out, because there really isn’t a clunker in the mix. Yet, this is a review of The Exterminators, so, does it live up to my personal high expectations? Yes. (I guess you’ll want more than that, so here we go.)

Bob Dillon (no, not that one) has been training assassins for most of his life. Training them to be the perfect killers. Of course, these assassins are actually insects, and Bob is using them to perfect his totally green eco-friendly Pest Control system. Yet, years ago he was mistaken for an actually assassin, and a 10 million dollar bounty was placed on his head. With the help of former Killer-for-hire Klaus, Bob faked his death, and now he and his family are living a quiet existence in rural Oregon. Yet, when DARPA decides that Bob’s killer bugs may just be the next generation weapon in the war on Terror, The Dillon family and Klaus are again pulled into a life threatening situation. Fitzhugh hasn’t lost his touch with The Exterminators, a laugh out loud satirical skewering of our modern culture. Fitzhugh sets his sights on some easy targets, extreme fundamentalist Christians, Hollywood, audacious quasi-news Talk Show hosts, and, of course, government bureaucracy. Yet, despite the easiness of the targets, Fitzhugh takes them on in clever yet outrageous ways.  Fitzhugh has assembled a wonderful cast of characters, including a rouge CIA agent, a disgruntled Priest, a government bureaucrat who is also a member of a millennial religious faction, an assassin turned screenwriter and Bob’s 16 year old daughter who provided a plethora of laugh out loud moments. Yet, as all good satirical novels do, there are serious questions asked in The Exterminators dealing with bioethics, religious extremism, and Post 9/11 America.  While Fitzhugh provides enough back story to make The Exterminators work as a standalone, I highly recommend you check out Pest Control as well as this novel. Fans of Carl Hiaasen and Tim Dorsey will definitely find a lot to like in The Exterminators, in fact, anyone who enjoys a good laugh, a well plotted thriller and a book that will make you think should add The Exterminators to their reading lists.

I have listened to quite a few audiobooks narrated by Tom Weiner, and this is probably my favorite of his performances. Weiner is a veteran, and always gives a solid performance, but here, his deep tones are accompanied with a sardonic wit that brings the story to life. You can just imagine Weiner with a bit of a devilish grin on his face as he slowly details each increasingly crazy scenario that Fitzhugh has created. As someone who read Pest Control in print, I found his voices for the characters, particularly Bob and Klaus, to be dead on. I really enjoyed the fact that he never rushed the narrative, Fitzhugh has set up these elaborate scenarios and Weiner reads them in a deliberate pace that comes off natural, and allows the listener to visualize precisely what Fitzhugh has set up. With The Exterminators, Bill Fitzhugh has regained his rightful place as one of my favorite writers and I hope I don’t have too wait to long for his next novel. .

Note: A special thanks to the good people of Blackstone Audio for providing me with a copy of this title to review.