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Basket Case    by Carl Hiaasen order for
Basket Case
by Carl Hiaasen
Order:  USA  Can
Warner, 2003 (2002)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by David Pitt

On July 22, 1999, the Miami Herald published an article by their popular columnist, Carl Hiaasen, headlined 'Celebrity deaths reveal our worst.' In it he wrote: 'To say the press has a morbid streak is perfectly fair and accurate. Death is often news, and the unexpected death of a celebrity brings out the worst in the media's worst.'

In Basket Case, Hiaasen's new novel, Jack Tagger, once an up-and-coming investigative journalist and now a down-and-out obituary writer, is handed the story that could catapult him back onto the front page: the death of Jimmy Stoma, of Jimmy and the Slut Puppies. While trying to claw his way back into respectability, Jack uncovers a mystery whose solution is fiendishly subtle and deadly.

This is a delightful novel; Hiaasen, in case you don't know, is a very witty guy, and he likes to have fun. Consider this, for example: Jack's troubles at the paper started when he dared to criticize the company's new owners, a publishing conglomerate called Magged-Feist, and if you think that sounds a little like 'maggot feast,' I'm sure that's not a coincidence. And do I need to point out that calling a corrupt politician 'Cheatworth' is a satiric gesture that Dickens himself would have approved? There are other name games, but let's let Hiaasen reveal the rest of them himself.

Hiaasen, who's spent many a year writing for newspapers, packs the novel with plenty of behind-the-scenes intrigue: Jack, to select one example of many, has to protect his story from some of his fellow reporters, who might want to take it and run with it. There's also a nice sub-plot about the paper's former owner, who's not happy with the new owners and who has, shall we say, a very clever plan for dealing with them.

The novel is exciting: Tagger, who just wants to turn this rock star's obit into front-page news before somebody takes the story away from him, walks head-first into conspiracy and danger. It is fresh: Hiaasen tells the story in the present tense, so we find out about things the same time Jack does (I know the present-tense gimmick is being used a lot lately, way too much in fact, but Hiaasen actually knows how to use it). It is charming: Hiaasen manages to work in a love story, a funny and tender one that, in the hands of a less talented writer, might have seemed dreadfully out of place.

It is, in short, a thoroughly entertaining novel.

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