Review

Basket Case

by Carl Hiaasen



Carl Hiaasen's many fans will instantly recognize the earthy,
hilarious style of his latest novel, BASKET CASE, but that is where
the comparisons end. This book is written in first person --- a
first for Hiaasen. His own career as a newspaper man --- an
investigative reporter at one point and now a twice-weekly
columnist for the Miami Herald --- gives Hiaason a hilarious but
insightful vantage point as he explores what might be his most
complex hero. And perhaps Jack Tagger is nearer and dearer to
Hiaasen's heart than heroes of past novels.

Jack Tagger is a former hotshot investigative reporter whose
aggressive style and big mouth land him in newspaperdom's Siberia:
writing obituary columns. He toils under the watchful eye of his
editor Emma at a small town daily that has been devoured by a
national newspaper chain, whose idea of news is whatever small bits
can be sandwiched between the ad copy that turns a profit for the
shareholders. His only hope for rescue from this creative nadir is
to discover that one juicy story about a notable person that can
catapult him back to the front pages.

Jack has lost the love of his life because of his neurosis over
comparing his own age with that of famous people who have died ---
at the same age. He is now 46 and he obsesses over the fact that
Jack London, Jack Kennedy (a coincidence that they're both Jacks?
He thinks not), Elvis Presley, and George Orwell all cashed in
their chips at 46. Then he is almost undone when he discovers that
his new girl friend is only 27. His first thought: "Hendrix Joplin
Jones Morrison Cobain --- I could scream out their names. But all I
say is 'twenty-seven.' Wow." Furthermore, he has nearly eliminated
any future contact with his mother when she refuses to tell him at
what age his own father, who left home when Jack was a baby, died.
This nagging question occupies nearly every phone call. Clearly,
writing obituaries is altering Jack's life in ways that lead him to
desperately seek a solution --- pursuing a big story of a dead
person is his only salvation.

Jack lucks out when faded rock star Jimmy Stoma, of Jimmy and the
Slut Puppies, drowns in a scuba diving incident in the Bahamas,
with only his wife and former band member as witnesses. Jack smells
something fishy from the very beginning as he interviews Jimmy's
wife and his sister. The chase to prove foul play is on, and
Hiaasen introduces us to the seamy side of the rock music
business.

As any Hiaasen fan knows, the author slyly injects a pet peeve into
every storyline. In previous books, South Florida land development
has been his prime target --- from Disney World to subdivisions to
a crooked insurance industry in the aftermath of the 1993
hurricane. He's taken broadsides at wild animal parks, plastic
surgeons, and the Florida Chamber of Commerce. His latest target is
the carnivorous newspaper chains that are gobbling up small
newspapers in the interest of huge profits for their
shareholders.

Readers may miss some of Hiaasen's standby characters, but he has
created an entire new cast of players. Jack Tagger himself may be
the strangest figure in BASKET CASE, if not quite as whacked out as
Skink, the deranged former Florida governor, or some others who
populate his earlier novels. You can rest assured, however, that
the bad guys will always meet with a deliciously suitable end ---
one of the hallmarks of any Hiaasen novel.

Reviewed by Roz Shea on January 21, 2011

Basket Case
by Carl Hiaasen

  • Publication Date: January 1, 2003
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Mass Market Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • ISBN-10: 044661193X
  • ISBN-13: 9780446611930