Newest Review: ... on this occasion to create a scathing attack relating to his own opinions, particularly on the demise of good journalism and quality ... more
Could it have been the Lizard?
Basket Case - Carl Hiaasen
Member Name: Foxy-Lady
Basket Case - Carl Hiaasen
Advantages: Quirky characters
Disadvantages: Quite an obvious outcome
Working as a reporter for The Union-Register (a daily South Florida newspaper) suited Jack perfectly until it was bought out and devoured by a national newspaper chain called Magged-Feist (sounds like Maggot- Feast? Not just a coincidence!) The ‘more ads, less news, therefore more profit’ policy infuriated an opinionated Jack who couldn’t hold back on his outspoken views. In a daring critical protest against the ideas of the new owners, he publicly insulted his boss at a shareholders meeting, instantly earning him a new job title along with demotion from front page news to the obituary desk - an act that was carried out in the hope that he’d resign in utter humiliation and disgust. But Jack continues to hang in there, amusing himself by being stubborn and trying to make life difficult for those around him.
This initial introduction provides the basis and theme for the story. Hiaasen is well known for slyly writing the plots and storylines of his novels around a particular focal point, which is usually a current social or environmental annoyance that he has. He utilises satire as emphasis to get his point across. In previous books some of his prime targets have been land development, plastic surgeons, crooked insurance industry (during hurricane aftermath) and wild animal parks. The driving force behind his latest take on contemporary life is corporate greed regarding both journalism and the fiercly competetive music industry. It therefore contains a personal element as Hiaasen has spent many years writing for newspapers and he has drawn from experience on this occasion to create a scathing attack relating to his own opinions, particularly on the demise of good journalism and quality newspapers.
It is Hiaasen’s own career that gives an insightful advantage in creating and developing the main character and it is what actually persuaded him to write ‘Basket Case’ using the voice of Jack Tagger in first person narrative. He usually uses third person narration, jumping between characters, but this chosen format means that the novel sticks with Jack and is written entirely from his perspective. Due to his background, Hiaasen felt that he could successfully do this and stay in the head of Jack throughout in a convincing manner. It certainly achieves a great result and gives a good glimpse into a reporters psyche.
The book delves behind the scenes of a newspaper, speaking briefly about the politics involved, employee hierarchy and the overall atmosphere including ambitious editors, profit mongering publishers and jealous colleagues. Jack has to constantly play his cards close to his chest and fiercly guard his leads in an attempt to protect his stories from fellow reporters who may want to steal his ideas! All written in a way in which it is clear that Hiaasen is speaking from his own experiences.
The dig at the music industry enters the story when Jack is given a new obituary to write and he unsuspectingly stumbles across a tale of intrigue, inevitably opening a can of worms. The death is that of James Bradley Stomarti who Jack soon realises is (or was!) better known as Jimmy Stoma, lead singer of the long forgotten ‘Slut Puppies’. The faded rock star has died in a scuba diving accident off the coast of the Bahamas with only his wife and a former band member as witnesses.
On interviewing the glamourous young widow to get a touching quote for his piece, Jack immediately concludes that something ain’t quite right and proceeds to investigate further. The widow turns out to be a talentless one-hit-wonder who is only famous for flashing her pubic hair on MTV. Is the wannabe musician as innocent as she appears?
The usual suspicions are introduced due to the circumstances of the death and Jack soon suspects that it wasn’t an accident - it was murder! But who was the killer and what was the motive? If only he could find out and prove his theory...pehaps he could expose the murder and turn it into a huge scoop. He could once again grace the front page of the newspaper!
Unfortunately there are numerous obstacles standing in his way and hindering his progress meaning that his quest is not as easy as it seems. As we follow his exploits it becomes clear that some clever, sometimes dangerous investigation work is required. With the hope of new found respectability firmly in his sights, determination sets in and Jack begins to slowly uncover the ‘mystery’.
I found that the plot isn’t entirely convincing though and it’s not really a mystery at all. It actually becomes quite apparent who the villains of the story are. Therefore ‘Basket Case’ can’t really be classed as a whodunnit....it’s more of a ‘whydunnit’, but this doesn’t cause the book to lose its appeal. Hiaasen has a unique touch and quite obviously likes to inject some fun into his satirical crime novels. ‘Basket Case’ is no exception and Hiaasen’s typical comedy style of bizarre scenarios and witty dialogue shines through. Not forgetting the supporting cast of memorable characters and strange personalities that largely contribute to the quirky nature of the book. For example L’Oreal - a long haired record producer. Emma Cole - Jack’s editor who has a liking for flourescent nail varnish. Carla Candilla - the outgoing teenage daughter of Jack’s ex-girlfriend. Mac Polk - an old aged millionare with revenge in the form of a clever plan on his mind. Juan Rodriguez - womanising sports journalist with ambitions to become a ‘real’ writer. Cleo Reo - anyone who despairs at the current state of music will laugh at her portrayal. Not forgetting Colonel Tom - a dead lizard stored in Jack Tagger’s freezer! And of course, Jack Tagger himself who aswell as having an obsession with his new found goal, also has a morbid fascination with measuring his lifespan against those of dead celebrities and an unhealthy paranoia about the manner and timing of his own eventual death. Writing obituaries is clearly effecting Jack’s outlook on life!!
It’s unbelievable to think that the ideas behind some of these oddballs (including the reptile) are taken from real life!...
“Some of them come from my imagination but some of them are stolen from the headlines of the Miami Herald aswell. When you’re writing satire, you get your inspiration largely from real life and I’m lucky enough to live in a place where there’s no shortage of colourful characters” - Carl Hiaasen.
This is certainly a character driven book and interaction between the various personalities is perceptively portrayed. For example, whenever Jack’s arrogant boss ‘Maser Race Maggad’ enters the scene you can feel the tension created by their conflict, probably reflecting Hiaasen’s own feelings. Most of the books laugh-out-loud moments are the result of entertaining character dialogue and amusing observations, some of which can actually be quite cheesy at times!
Overall, well paced action, excellent characterisation and good use of sub plots (including a touch of romance) are complimented by dry humour and an abundance of quirks - qualities which seem to have gained Hiaasen an almost cult following. For those who have never picked up any of his books ‘Basket Case’ is a good introduction to his style. It’s a great read!
Published by: Pan books
Price: Available on Amazon for £5.59
Summary: A hugely satirical crime novel - not to be taken seriously!