Carl Hiaasen,
Basket Case
(Warner, 2002)

I have known Jack Tagger's pain.

Like Jack, the protagonist in Carl Hiaasen's novel Basket Case, I have spent far too much of my professional journalism career writing or editing obituaries. It's a tedious, humorless job with no room for creative expression -- the equivalent of factory work for reporters. Fortunately for me, the owners of my newspaper realized that obituaries were a potential source of income, so now they can run, unedited and quite often embarrassing, without involving the newsroom at all; it's the advertising department's gig now.

But poor Jack, once a top investigative reporter, made the mistake of publicly humiliating the new owner of his paper, a corporate chain driven by numbers rather than news that's all too real in today's media market. So he continues to grind out his daily obituary quota, figuring it galls the boss more that he simply won't quit. ... until the obituary for a washed-up, 39-year-old rock star promises to be much more than a 12-inch block on the obit page.

Jimmy Stoma's death seems to hold secrets, especially when members of Jimmy's former band, the Slut Puppies, also appear to be targets. Jimmy's widow, one-hit pop star Cleo Rio, thinks it's a bizarre coincidence, while Jimmy's sister, Janet, is convinced it was murder. Unfortunately, Jack isn't having much luck turning up suspects, clues or motives, and his editor wants him back at his desk.

Basket Case is another delightful turn from Carl Hiaasen, who is peopling Florida with an outrageous array of characters one book at a time. While a murder investigation provides the core of Hiaasen's Basket Case plot, it underpins a remarkably clever wit, but subtle and direct, and a razor-sharp eye for good dialogue. Long after the mystery is solved, readers will remain enthralled to see how it all unfolds, who gets their comeuppance and who gets a happy, or at least not too horrible, ending.

Hiaasen is a very entertaining writer, and Basket Case provides an amusing look at the newspaper and music industries -- and really, how far apart can you get?

by Tom Knapp
1 July 2006

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