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Basket Case

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Once a hotshot investigative reporter, Jack Tagger now bangs out obituaries for a South Florida daily, "plotting to resurrect my career by yoking my byline to some famous stiff." Jimmy Stoma, the infamous front man of Jimmy and the Slut Puppies, dead in a fishy-smelling scuba "accident" may be just the stiff Jack needs-if only he can figure out what happened. Standing in the way are [among others] an editor who wants Jack to "break her cherry," Stoma's ambitious pop-singer widow, and the soulless, profit-hungry newspaper owner Jack once publicly humiliated. As clues from Stoma's music give Jack Tagger the chance to trade obits for a story that could hit the front page, murder gives his career a new lease on life.

400 pages, Paperback

First published January 2, 2002

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About the author

Carl Hiaasen

191 books7,468 followers
Carl Hiaasen was born and raised in Florida. After graduating from the University of Florida, he joined the Miami Herald as a general assignment reporter and went on to work for the newspaper’s weekly magazine and prize-winning investigations team. As a journalist and author, Carl has spent most of his life advocating for the protection of the Florida Everglades. He and his family live in southern Florida.

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,044 reviews
Profile Image for Ravenskya .
234 reviews37 followers
April 25, 2008
Other than "Team Rodent" I had never read a Hiaasen novel until this one. I had always heard good things and had listened to him compared to many of my favorite authors. Last night I read Basket Case (actually I finished it... I started it yesterday). Now that I have finally read a Hiaasen novel, I must say, I absolutely loved it.

First, it takes place in my home state of Florida, which I miss immensely so it was nice to be back there, if only in my mind. Second, Hiaasen is an extremely intelligent writer, I have read many "Humorous" books that border on insulting in the implausibility department when it comes to straining for a laugh. Hiaasen never crosses that line. The story is first and foremost and the writing style is smart, witty, and simple to read. You never have to go back and re-read a line to figure out what he was saying, and you are also never insulted by the childishness.

The characters are interesting, funny, charming, likeable, quirky and most of all, extremely human. I never doubted these people, heck I think I've met them before. The plot is interesting and plays out like a mystery... you find yourself really rooting for our leading man Jack Tagger. The book follows Jack, a once rising star in the newspaper world who shot off his mouth at the wrong time and was reassigned to the demeaning world of obituary writing. He now suffers from neurosis that come with the job... an obsession with death, mainly his own and how old he'll be when it happens. Up until now it has destroyed relationships and forced his career to dwindle to almost negligible. Then he covers the death of Jimmy Stoma, ex rocker and musical bad boy. Very quickly he decides that there is something strange about the death and the old reporter in him stirs.... And begins stirring up trouble.

The rest of cast of characters includes:
Emma, Jack's editor and possible love/hate interest
Juan the Cuban Sportswriter and Jack's best friend
Cleo - the dead rocker's wife and aspiring pop diva
Janet - the dead rocker's singer and arch enemy of Cleo
Carla - Jack's ex-girlfriend's daughter and club scene master

The crew gets even larger and more interesting... Colonel Tom is by far my favorite scene in the book, but I won't go into detail, you just have to read that one for yourself. In the end the book is darkly funny, engaging, and fairly high speed entertainment toward the end when everything starts hitting the fan. I know Tim Dorsey is often compared with Hiaasen, but in reality there is no comparison other than the setting of their books. Dorsey is extremely over the top while Hiaasen is firmly grounded in reality... albeit a strange and demented reality, but a believable one none-the-less. I would compare him more with Vonnegut (minus the sci-fi aspect) than Dorsey, Pratchett or Gaimen
Profile Image for dianne .
630 reviews98 followers
April 20, 2017
A slightly off-kilter mystery about a dead punk rocker, his peri-pubescent brat of a wife (of a few months) a toss-up of residual newsroom characters, overarching goodies and baddies (media conglomerates) and some of the sundry tasty and tawdry types that one finds in beach towns of a certain size, there to be someone they weren’t yesterday.
It isn’t a book that will linger, or open any wondrous spectral insight - but it might make you giggle out loud several times. That's good.
Profile Image for James.
Author 3 books23 followers
September 28, 2008
I am a big fan of Mr. Hiaasen. That being said I was pretty disappointed in Basket Case. It took me over two years to read this book, simply because I didn’t care. It turned into the book I picked up and read a few pages in between the next thing I would read. The characters weren’t as interesting as in Hiaasen’s previous stories. The humor, which usually has me laugh out loud, was weak. Basket Case also lacked the pro-environmental undertones that he has become known for.

This is the first novel that I’ve read in which Hiaasen uses the 1st person point of view, which is the hardest, and I’m not sure if that is what caused this one to be so mundane.

Skinny Dip is next in line and I look forward to it, just not as much as I used to look forward to the next Hiaasen since reading Basket Case.
Profile Image for Thomas Stroemquist.
1,480 reviews121 followers
December 6, 2016
A writer on the family pages of a small local decides to go into investigative journalism and find out what happened to a deceased rock singer. Was it an accident or was it something else? More 'traditional crime' novel and probably the least 'typical' Hiaasen since he co-wrote with Montalbano. No worries, though - you won't mistake Hiaasen for someone else!
Profile Image for Mike French.
430 reviews92 followers
March 27, 2014
Very enjoyable book. This book wasn't laughing out so much your sides hurt for a least 2 days like the Skink series, but was very humorous! If you like Carl Hiaasen and haven't read it ,you should!
Profile Image for David.
449 reviews48 followers
April 19, 2021
After the slightly disappointed feeling I had from reading 'Sick Puppy' - with its oddly serious commentary running throughout - I'm glad to report that 'Basket Case' is more in line with the rollicking 'joyousness' of the author's madcap 'Skinny Dip'.

In one significant way, it surpasses 'SD' (even if, overall, I prefer the latter novel). 'SD' - like 'Sick Puppy' - probably has too many characters, but it didn't matter because its antics are so satisfying that giving even the subordinate characters more time than really necessary didn't slow up the pace or the momentum.

But Hiaasen's use of his characters in 'Basket Case' is more judicious. He gives us a hefty handful of main characters to focus on; his supporting cast, on the other hand, is kept reined-in - appearing only when absolutely necessary to move the plot forward. None of them overstay their welcome.

If 'Basket Case' feels less... I don't know; intimate?, immediate than 'Skinny Dip'?... that could be because it's more obviously a straightforward murder mystery - set in the world of rock 'n' roll. We learn that on p. 3; I perked up at the thought that Hiaasen might be embarking on his own version of the hilarious mockumentary 'This Is Spinal Tap' (which, to a degree, turns out to be the case; he even references that film late in the book).

Along the way, Hiaasen is here in consistently fine comedic form:
"The guy who broke into your apartment, what do you think he was after?"
"Who knows? My Chagalls?"

"Snideness is such an unattractive quality in the bereaved."

He can also be poignant:

"That's a good one," I say. "It's much better than 'growing apart,' which is my usual excuse. You ever miss him?"
"No, but sometimes I wish I did."
I know what she means.
"Just to feel something," she says.

The people placed front-and-center are wonderfully engaging and the author again maintains both an admirable sense of structure and a knack for causing the pages to practically turn themselves.

The most complicated section is the plot's high-octane wrap-up: it's bonkers!
Profile Image for Russ.
359 reviews35 followers
January 26, 2021
I always enjoy learning about the newspaper business from irreverent Hiaasen, and this was no exception. I love the journalist characters he creates who are constantly pissing off editors and forced into a second-tier position as penance. Writing obituaries is a particularly inspired job for the purpose, and it was a lot of fun to glimpse that underexamined niche of journalism. Perfect way for Hiaasen to weave a lot gallows humor and wisecracks into a story.

As to the story itself I have to agree with some of the other reviewers here that it wasn’t anything special or memorable. Seems like the obit writer gets a hunch early on and basically follows it right down the line you’d expect.

Although I’ve recently become, ahem, middle-aged, I didn’t feel old enough to get some of the jokes in this book. Maybe Hiaasen was satirizing a slightly older era of rock musicians and their fans than I’m familiar with.
Profile Image for A.K. Kulshreshth.
Author 7 books57 followers
November 19, 2021
A little into this book, I concluded that it wouldn't work. I only had one laugh out of it, triggered by something a character did to a celebrity's car. I also missed Skink a bit.

By mid-point, I was reassured that when Hiaasen wrote this he hadn't lost his skill in mixing batshit crazy people into a caper novel and generating a few laugh-aloud moments. The main character's armed combat with an intruder is quite notable.

It's remarkable that Hiaasen has built up a great body of work witht he same unfailing ingredients, and that it works for someone like me who has never been to Florida. As in every book of his, the good earth-loving people triumph over the evil greedy ones, who are caricatures of human beings. It's fiction. Great escapist fiction.
Profile Image for Mary.
593 reviews45 followers
December 14, 2014
Basket Case is the first Carl Hiaasen that I've read and it was pretty good.

What I liked:

- Pacing - the story moves and doesn't lag at any point. It was so easy to read that I was finished before I knew it.

- Humor (general) - it's meant to be funny and it was refreshing to read a mystery that was fairly light and without too much heavy emotion.

- Details about the newspaper business. It doesn't sound like a lot of fun to me but I can see how someone with the right personality would love the deadlines, the pressure and the general nosiness required to get the next story.

What didn't quite work for me:

- Jack, the main character, is 46 years old but talks about himself as if he's ancient. As it's written, I would think the target audience for Basket Case would be people in their late thirties to fifties. As someone who fits in that category (don't ask for more specifics) I was kind of offended that the character, and I'm assuming the author, thinks I'm close to being over the hill. Trust me, you aren't old at 46. Far from it.

- This is somewhat of a spoiler but you'll know it's going to happen pretty early on - Jack starts a relationship with his editor who is in her late 20's. Maybe I'm a prude or out of touch. Or both. What does a 46-year-old man talk about with a 20-something woman? I asked my husband this and he smirked and said, "They aren't talking." Touché. But, at some point, don't you want to talk to the person you are spending that much time with? And, having sex at the office? No thanks.

Would I read another Hiaasen? Probably...but I might look a little closer at the synopsis on the back to make sure it didn't hit any of the wrong buttons for me. 3/5 stars.
Profile Image for Scott Rhee.
1,843 reviews68 followers
January 29, 2015
Carl Hiaasen is funny. But he's probably not so funny to a lot of people, namely politicians (Republicans and Democrats alike), the Aryan Brotherhood, trailer trash, people who spend thousands on plastic surgery, plastic surgeons, Colombian drug dealers, tourists, pedophiles, supermodels, criminals, and dog-haters. I suppose if you're not in one of those demographics, you won't be offended by Hiaasen's salty disposition.

Hiaasen basically hates everybody in Miami, Florida, and he writes lovingly about that hate in his hilarious novels.

"Basket Case" is probably his most straightforward attempt at writing a murder mystery. Told from the first-person perspective of Jack Tagger, an obituary writer for a no-name local newspaper, "Basket Case" follows Tagger as he investigates the mysterious death of Jimmy Stoma, the front man for Jack's favorite rock band from the 70s, Jimmy and the Slut Puppies.

The official word is accidental drowning, but Tagger suspects murder, and when two other former Slut Puppies bite the bullet, his suspicions are confirmed. Unfortunately, he has no evidence. Fortunately, what he does have is Emma, his sexy young editor who has more than a crush on him, a frozen lizard in his freezer, a weird but not altogether surprising fascination with death, and more intelligence than the idiotic hitmen hired to kill him. (One of them is simply named Loreal. Yeah, after the shampoo...)

This is good stuff. Hiaasen may not be Pulitzer Prize material, but he's damn funny and is a good source for scathing social commentary. He'll make you laugh. What more do you want?
Profile Image for Art.
812 reviews6 followers
October 10, 2016
Jack Tagger has been exiled to his Florida newspaper's obit desk but he has a plan to find just the right death to springboard his by-line back to the front page.

And when Jimmy Stoma's death notice crosses his desk, the game is on.

Stoma was the front man for an old rock group. Tagger suspects his death was not a result of natural causes. And the cast of characters inhabiting the world of Stoma and Tagger is a typical Hiaasen mash-up of likeable, colorful and potential Darwin Award winners.

Hiaasen, a longtime Miami Herald columnist, usually takes on politicians, environmentalists and builders. But some of his sharpest barbs may be reserved for the industry he loves most. This one is a keeper.
Profile Image for Lancelot Schaubert.
Author 30 books273 followers
January 23, 2022
A journalist under discipline for loudly calling out the owner of the newspaper at a shareholder's meeting finds himself writing beautiful, brilliant obits for years. Obsessing over death. And in writing one for a rockstar who has faded from glory, he discovers a murder.

First Hiaasen book for me: I'll he really has a knack for showing you how to both mock and love Florida Man, wherever Florida Man resides and whatever he does. Perhaps because the charming, but incredibly foolish, part of the American Dream consistently resides in Florida and his name is Carl Hiaasen. He makes court jesters of us all.

Another quick note: this book started out fine, then decent, and I really fell in love with it by the end. He really knows how to write a lovable jerk, sort of reminiscent of Fletch. In all the good ways.

Hiaasen also knows how to lambast those who killed the newspaper, the novel, basically anyone against the deep meaning of the printed word.
Profile Image for Joanie.
1,285 reviews69 followers
April 1, 2009
I read this for the spring challenge. I liked this one more than Nature Girl but not quite as much as Skinny Dip. Hiaasen again brings to life some pretty funny characters including some of the dumbest criminals you've ever met. Entertaining story, pretty far fetched but still a lot of fun.
Profile Image for Agumom.
31 reviews2 followers
March 29, 2009
I randomly picked up Sick Puppy by this author because I liked the cover (well done marketing team!). The heroes are flawed and quirky. The hero in this book is obsessed with death and writes obituaries. I am really enjoying this author. I mean, his books have yet to change my life or my perspective on life, but they're great to read on a lazy Sunday (cupcakes!), curled up on a comfy chair still wearing pajamas and sipping coffee. Or tea, you could sip tea, as well.
Profile Image for Tim.
2,132 reviews200 followers
October 11, 2016
Positively, one of my least favorite Hiaasen reads. In fact, it's closer to 1 star than the 2 I'm giving it because of a few clever lines by an obit writer in fear of his own fatality. 3 of 10 stars
Profile Image for Mal Warwick.
Author 29 books404 followers
November 20, 2017
Carl Hiaasen is a very funny man. His comic novels about life in Florida are always amusing and sometimes hilarious. Inept criminals, corrupt politicians, and bumbling police officers populate his books. Few come off well. For example, “A disagreement over lane-changing etiquette has resulted in two motorists pulling semiautomatics and inconsiderately shooting each other in the diamond lane of the interstate.” And here he is in Basket Case (2002) writing about one of his protagonist’s ex-girlfriends: “Among Alicia’s multiple symptoms were aversion to sleep, employment, punctuality, sobriety, and monogamy. On the positive side, she volunteered weekends at an animal shelter.”

Most of Hiaasen’s novels involve the destruction of Florida’s environment. However, in Basket Case, the author wades into a subject that is clearly at least as close to his heart: the steady decline of the newspaper industry. Hiaasen is a columnist for the Miami Herald, where he has worked since 1976. Here he is musing about the damage wrought to a small-town paper by its profit-mad, self-indulgent young publisher: “Only two types of journalists choose to stay at a paper that’s being gutted by Wall Street whorehoppers. One faction is comprised of editors and reporters whose skills are so marginal that they’re lucky to be employed, and they know it. Unencumbered by any sense of duty to the readers, they’re pleased to forego the pursuit of actual news in order to cut expenses and score points with the suits . . . The other journalists who remain at slow-strangling dailies such as the Union-Register are those too spiteful or stubborn to quit.”

Jack Tagger, 46, is one of the latter. He writes the obituaries for the Union-Register, a small-town Florida newspaper. He is obsessed with death, primarily his own. Hardly an hour goes by without his thinking of some famous person who died when he was Jack’s age. He blames his mother for this obsession, because she stubbornly refuses to tell him at what age his father died. (Jack has no memory of the man, who left them when he was an infant.) He is terrified that he won’t outlive his father. However, he’s not happy thinking about anyone else’s death, either. Funerals upset him. Autopsies are much worse. All this is highly unfortunate in a man who writes obituaries for a living.

Jack’s preoccupation with death may go back many years, even before his consignment to the obituary page. But his present position “at the top of the shit list” at the Union-Register began only three years ago. He doesn’t like to talk about why an award-winning investigative journalist was demoted so ignominiously to celebrate the lives of pet store owners, insurance salesmen, and fishermen. (Suffice to say, it was a very colorful incident.) But now a familiar-looking name has turned up in a fax from the local funeral home that may give Jack a way out.

Jack is almost as obsessive about rock music as he is about death. So he quickly realizes that the deceased, James Bradley Stomarti, 39, was better known years ago as Jimmy Stoma of the superstar band, Jimmy and the Slut Puppies. Jack sees his byline back on the front page if he can keep the story of Jimmy’s death to himself long enough to gather the facts.

As Jack launches into the interviews that will serve as background to Jimmy Stoma’s obituary, he quickly comes to understand that all is not as it seems. Perhaps the young musician didn’t accidentally die while diving in the Bahamas. Perhaps the man’s 24-year-old wife had a motive of some sort to kill him. And why are she and the people around her so eager to prevent Jack from learning what really happened?

These circumstances could be the basis of a serious thriller. But Basket Case is anything but serious. (Except when Hiaasen muses about the sad story of the newspaper industry.) For instance, here’s where Jack meets Cleo Rio, Jimmy’s widow: “The club’s motif combines the exotic ambience of a Costa Rican brothel with the cozy, down-home charm of a methamphetamine lab.”

The cast of characters in Basket Case includes several of Jimmy’s ex-bandmates, who display a wide array of colorful behavior, usually involving drugs; Jimmy’s sister, who earns her living dressing up as a cop on a SWAT team and stripping in front of a webcam; Jack’s inept and beautiful 27-year-old boss at the Union-Register, whom he is attempting to persuade to leave journalism; MacArthur Polk, 88, the former owner of the paper who has been dying at regular intervals for many years but somehow always continues to rally; and Race Maggad III, the profit-obsessed head of the company that owns 27 newspapers, including Jack’s.

I’ve also reviewed Hiaasen’s Star Island (2010) online at "Carl Hiaasen skewers celebrities;" Bad Monkey (2013) at "A severed arm, a detective on the roach patrol, and a bad monkey;" Razor Girl (2016) at "Reality TV, African rodents, the roach patrol;" and two of his young adult novels, both of which I found disappointing.
Profile Image for Barbara.
1,345 reviews4,864 followers
July 19, 2015
2.5 stars

Forty-six year old Jack Tagger - who was once an investigative journalist - has been banished to the obituary page since publicly insulting his newspaper's publisher. Hoping to make it back to the front page Jack latches on to the story when former rock star Jimmy Stoma, who was lead singer of the Slut Puppies, dies while scuba diving in the Bahamas. Jack becomes suspicious when there's no autopsy, a quick cremation, and Jimmy's wife, Cleo Rio - an up and coming singer - tells conflicting stories about Jimmy's last day. Jack decides to investigate Jimmy's death in hopes of unearthing a great story.

Pretty soon various people in Jimmy's circle are threatened, their homes are trashed, and more Slut Puppies turn up dead. Someone is looking for something, and by chance Jack finds it - a computer hard drive. Desperate to get their hands on the hard drive, the bad guys will stop at nothing. Thus Jack has to figure out who might have wanted to kill Jimmy and how the hard drive figures into it.

Along the way Jack seeks pop culture advice from Carla, the 17-year-old daughter of his ex-girlfriend (oddly enough, Carla has her own apartment and frequents bars), gets help from his fellow journalist Juan Rodriguez (who has many girlfriends and a secret), develops a crush on his 27-year-old editor (after his journalistic antics drive her to take sedatives), and gets acquainted with Jimmy's sister (who poses as a stripping meter maid/SWAT team member in her online business). Jack also finds good use for the large, frozen lizard in his freezer.

I've read several other books by Carl Hiassen and his stories are always funny with eccentric, sometimes hilarious, characters. In this book Jack spouts a dictionary worth of amusing quips and, being an obiturary writer, becomes obsessed with the ages at which famous people and animals died. As soon as Jack learns someone's age a list of worthies who died at that age run through his mind (and onto the page). Nevertheless this book isn't totally successful. The mystery at the heart of the book isn't very compelling, the story slogs along and gets boring, and Jack comes across as too much of a smart aleck. Also, Jack's pursuit of the young editor is creepy - and it's hard to figure out what she sees in him.

Though this book is only 2.5 stars for me I'd read other books by Hiassen.
Profile Image for Pamela Mclaren.
1,320 reviews81 followers
November 24, 2017
Watch out -- if you don't want to laugh yourself silly reading about former investigative reporter Jack Tagger as he claws his way from the obit section back to the front page by looking deeper into the death of an old rock star -- then don't pick up this book.

Because Tagger is on a mission and slowly gathering converts in his search into the sudden death Jimmy Stoma, the infamous front man of Jimmy and the Slut Puppies. It could be the story that will finally get him out from under the cloud called his smart mouth and mouthing off at the wrong time -- like to the new owner of the paper you work for. Just because you are right, doesn't mean that its the smart thing to do, especially as that owner is only looking at the bottom line and not the heart and soul of journalism.

But with Stoma's death, Tagger knows there is a bigger story. Something just doesn't seem right and the clues -- all discordant and definitely nothing Tagger can take to the police, or publish for that matter, are just part of the crazy fun reading created by Carl Hiaasen.

Hiaasen creates memorable characters with lots of heart --sometimes misguided and confused -- in wacky situations and its best just to sit back and enjoy the adventure.
Profile Image for Lisabet Sarai.
Author 175 books166 followers
March 30, 2021
Basket Case wasn't as hilarious as my last Hiaasen excursion (Lucky You), but it's entertaining nevertheless. This author does a great job creating women characters. A standout in Basket Case is the murder victim's sister, who makes her living impersonating a cop on a web cam, catering to men with authority fantasies. Emma, the heroine who's Jack Taggert's boss, also turns out to be more complicated (and appealing) than she originally appears.

I was reading Basket Case at the same time as a very dark Sara Paretsky mystery. It provided an excellent balance.
Profile Image for Xander.
61 reviews
May 31, 2008
Really enjoyed it. (I mean couldn't-put-it-down-enjoyed-it.) A top-notch detective novel—without a detective.

Hiaasen's novels are always twisted and funny, but this was especially good. The crime itself is not especially original, but the protagonist, obituary writer Jack Tagger, and the way in which the crime is uncovered through his impulsive (compulsive?) actions is unique and interesting.

The healthy dose of pop-culture references kept me smiling, too.
Profile Image for Jaime.
1,329 reviews74 followers
July 10, 2016
This book doesn’t have some of the absurdity of Hiaasen’s other novels, but it was quite good. The relationships are all very believable, and I ended up liking Jack quite a bit. The conclusion of the mystery is also quite satisfying.
Profile Image for Helen.
2,597 reviews53 followers
November 14, 2018
This book ranks up there with Dave Barry's books, in the "Florida humorous mystery" genre! It is a laugh-out-loud funny book about a flawed character, an obituary writer, who fears dying prematurely. Really enjoyable and easy to follow the story!
Profile Image for Frederic Pierce.
294 reviews5 followers
July 4, 2014
Loved it. For a former newspaper reporter and increasingly devoted Carl Hiaasen fan such as myself, this book was a two-fer. The story is pure Hiaasen - a laugh-out-loud-funny mystery filled with outrageous characters, genuine suspense, a flawed and reluctant hero and an rock band called The Slut Puppies. Oh, and murder. It wouldn't be a Hiaasen tale without one of those.
But the story is also a period piece about newspaper journalism in the 1990s, when increasing corporate ownership and the resulting demand for higher profits decimated newsrooms already struggling to cope with the rise of the Internet and triggering the quality landslide that's resulted in the shallow, entertainment-focused drivel that passes for serious news these days. The protagonist is an obituary writer - a dying creature in the 90s and all but extinct today. Out obituary boy had actually been a hotshot investigative reporter who publicly embarrassed a new corporate owner and was sentenced to the newspaper version of purgatory. Solving the mystery surrounding a dead rock star may be his ticket back to the front page. Having lived through this messy era (and getting busted down to regional cops beats - twice) it really hit home. I highly recommend it to all fellow survivors of the newspaper biz.
Profile Image for David.
2,223 reviews45 followers
May 22, 2017
Carl Hiaasen is in top form here, even if he differs from his usual narrative by switching to a single-perspective first person present tense narrative. This doesn't matter, because Hiaasen's writing is so good, his wit is so dry and the comedic timing so brilliant...he can handle any narration device with ease. The bonus of the different narrative is that the mystery is more focused, and it's his best in this regard. Hiaasen drops the usual environmental platform in what is an homage to classic rock, old rockers, and people who died young. Still present are the classic Hiaasen caricatures. I love the protagonist of Jack Taggert, an obituary writer who is death-obsessed that anybody's age is compared to the age of a corresponding celebrity's death. From the witty bantering in an overlooked newsroom to the climatic confrontation on a storm-threatened Lake Okeechobee, this is escapism fiction at its finest. Though not as prototypical as his masterpiece, "Sick Puppy", this book is probably just as good in its own right.
Profile Image for Leftbanker.
804 reviews306 followers
February 20, 2021
This is my first novel by Carl Hiaasen and I have to say that he’s a clever guy. The book is filled with clever quips that come at you practically from every paragraph. It’s not exactly laugh-out-loud stuff, but it’s highly entertaining, not that this seems to be a desirable trait in fiction these days. The book is a mystery of sorts, but I didn’t care even a little about the crime, something about a song and a murder. If you read closely, you’ll discover that the title comes from a song from a dead rock star (murdered? Maybe). “Basket Case” came off an album called Floating Hospice.

Hiaasen spent a career in newspapers and his love for the craft shines through in this novel in many ways. His writing style is snappy and lean, just as you would expect from a journalist with a limited amount of column space. His protagonist has been demoted to obituaries, but even this lowly task is treated with reverence by the author and his alter-ego anti-hero.

Writing obituaries has made Jack Tagger obsessed with the age people reach when they reach their check-out time, making it somewhat of a competition to see if he can live longer than some of the big names and pop icons in history. I started to get into the groove myself and found this website:


As it turns out, between Madonna, Michael Jackson, and Prince, I may just win. But I’ve never been the competitive type and I only wish the pop diva a long and healthy life.
Profile Image for Megan.
157 reviews
September 17, 2016
From Cynicism Corner

While Carl Hiaasen's Basket Case is still better than 90% of humor books out there, it is not one of his more successful endeavors.

Perhaps the biggest failing was the decision to make the novel first person, narrated in the present tense by the main character, Jack Tagger. Now, one of the things that made Hiaasen works so great in the past (and in the present) is the use of subplots that sometimes seemed to have nothing to do with the main story but which tie with hilarious results into the conclusion of the novel. My favorite example would have to be the finale of Strip Tease, in which everything comes together beautifully, including an apparently unrelated subplot about a wealthy sugar heir and his family's farm. Unfortunately, by making the choice to make Tagger the narrator Hiaasen limits himself in a way he rarely does in his other books. There can be no subplot to which Tagger is not witness.

And another thing about Tagger... perhaps I have no right to say that he is an author-surrogate character, but what else can one call a middle-aged journalist suddenly dropped to the obituary beat because of his heroism in talking back to the big bad establishment, only to inexplicably gain the admiration of his paper's former owner, who offers him a hundred grand a year to take over some stock and mess with said establishment's head, gets the girl (who is young enough to be his daughter—twenty years younger), wins fame and admiration, is taken back off the obit beat, saves his paper, sends the villainess to jail, and is generally an all-around cool guy? But maybe Hiaasen's surrogate was Joe Wilder from Native Tongue, while Tagger is just some guy. I don't know Hiaasen, I couldn't say. But Hiaasen seems to find Tagger a great deal more fascinating than I ever did. I just couldn't root for the man. He was boring and self-righteous and snobbish and preachy, and coming from an author whose every work screams conservation of the Everglades while still being hilarious, that says a lot. There's a bit toward the end where Tagger monologues about the fall of the daily newspaper. It goes something like this: “The Race Maggads of the industry have a standard gospel to rationalize their pillaging. It goes like this: American newspapers are steadily losing both readers and advertisers.... This fatal slide can be reversed only with a radical recasting of our role in the community. We need to be more receptive and responsive, less cynical and confrontational... We're all in this together!” Hiaasen is kind enough to end with “Yet even as we do more with less, we must never forget our solemn pledge to our readers, blah, blah, blah...” (309-310) so that we are aware it's not to be taken seriously. But its unfunny ranting and so is Tagger's subsequent complaining about “polo-playing CEOs.”

He also comes across as a trope hiding naked under the guise of a music buff. He is the Obsessed Reporter, who will do anything for a story and damn the consequences, the levies, relationships, entertainment, and your eyes. He finds blood on the floor of a wrecked home movie set and suspects murder but refuses to come forward and force the police to investigate because then he would be involved and wouldn't be able to write the article. The fact that he is an obituary writer does not deter him; he becomes obsessed with the ages at which celebrities died and constantly agonizes that he won't outlive Elvis. This, incidentally, is another instance of Hiaasen finding a character trait more interesting than it is. All right, it's amusing at first when Tagger informs someone he doesn't like that they have outlived Joplin and Cobain. But he does it again and again and again. Worse, when Tagger finds out his girlfriend/daughter-surrogate has been kidnapped, he still refuses to go to the police on account of the kidnappers are “too stupid.” I don't buy it, book. The reasons given for Tagger not going to the book strike me as the carelessly tacked-on reasons of an author who doesn't care anymore, the kind of reasons Patricia Cornwell wouldn't have been caught dead using until a couple years ago. And to top it all off, he's a music snob. Everything turns into a Rolling Stones reference, and he judges people based on their taste in music. At one point he wants to like the man who ends up kidnapping his girl because he taps his boot to a song Tagger likes. Well, why not? I've liked people for less.

There were a lot of things about this book I didn't buy. The girlfriend was one of them. I never really believed her character arc from Tagger's angry, slightly incompetent editor into his feisty love interest (who still winds up getting kidnapped, by the way). Here's something to chew on, entertainment industry: just because two people don't get along they don't necessarily have sexual chemistry. Sometimes they just don't like each other.

But the biggest disappointment by far is the fact that it just wasn't funny in the way I've come to expect from a Carl Hiaasen novel. It wouldn't be fair to say it wasn't funny at all—I enjoyed the tale of Colonel Tom the monitor lizard and his activities after death as a bludgeoning item during a home invasion—but occasionally I got the feeling I'd stumbled into the wrong novel by mistake. The only Hiaasen-esque touch I could find was a man being scalped by his waist-length ponytail when it catches in an airboat fan. Okay, I admit that was pretty funny. But the rest of the finale was like a Mary Higgins Clark thriller, and the twist at the end, when a body previously believed to be cremated is revealed to be in the ground under a different name, feels more like a soap opera plot device. The fact that there is not retribution to the character responsible irks me.

When I first started this book, I thought maybe it was one of Hiaasen's first, that he hadn't come into his own yet while writing it. But when I checked the copyright date, it was 2002, nearly ten years after my favorite of his works, Strip Tease, came out. While I'm not averse to a bit of experimenting in writing, I'm still pleased to say that he returned more to his roots in one of his latest, Star Island. I still hope for greatness from his latest work.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Kate.
250 reviews
June 24, 2022
Not one of Hiaasen's best, but still good. I guess I like his zanier stuff. This is a satircal take on print media (newspapers and giant media corporations) and a murder mystery. As usual with Hiaasen, I laughed out loud several times.
If you've never read Hiaasen, I would not recommend this as a starting point. If you have read him, go for it.

Profile Image for Garrison Kelly.
Author 12 books33 followers
June 15, 2017
Jack Tagger, Jr. is a middle-aged former elite reporter who has since been demoted to writing micromanaged obituaries after going on a tirade against his newspaper’s corporate masters. Life is slow, miserable, and boring for Mr. Tagger until he’s tasked with writing an obituary for Jimmy Stoma, a rock and roll icon who is believed to have drowned in an unfortunate diving accident. Jack’s investigative instincts cause him to dig deeper into this case in an attempt to uncover a conspiracy involving murder and number one hit songs. Without the support of his supervisors, Jack has to make do with his relatively short leash and his modicum of clues and suspicions. Can he bring closure to the family of his all-time favorite musician or will Mr. Stoma’s case go cold before it even begins?

Colorful, wisecracking characters are to be expected from Carl Hiaasen’s thrillers and Jack Tagger himself is no exception to that rule. It won’t matter whether the subject is sex, rock and roll, journalism, politics, or violence, because Jack, who happens to be the first person narrator, will always get a chuckle out of the reader with his commentary. A sense of humor is probably necessary for his necromantic line of work. Without it, he’d probably go crazy and there would be nobody to give Jimmy Stoma his due sending off. If he wasn’t so dedicated to being a newspaper reporter, he could probably make it as a standup comedian.

But he’s a truth-seeker first and a smart-ass second. He’s dedicated to weeding out the BS of corporate news even if it means getting himself in boiling hot water. His dedication to his art form is second to none, so much so that he would have seen Jimmy Stoma’s case through even after potentially being fired. In today’s era, we need more honest people like him to deliver the world’s news, even if that news tastes bitterer than a dissolved Xanax tablet washed down with horse piss beer. At forty-six years old, he doesn’t have time for corporate shenanigans or dishonest scum bags.

Speaking of not having time, Jack Tagger’s obsession with death is fascinating to read about, especially when he compares his own age to those of dead celebrities he once admired. Writing obituaries for so long makes him wonder when his morbid end will finally come and how it will happen. So many of his favorite public figures have died at forty-six years old and even at slightly older than that. His grim obsession has driven his loved ones away from him despite their pleas for him to just forget it and be happy with what he has.

It’s creepy to think about, but since it’s a Carl Hiaasen novel, it’s almost comical in a way. One of Mr. Hiaasen’s gifts to his profession is his ability to mix seriousness with humor in a subtle way that doesn’t take the reader out of the story. Trust me, there will be plenty of times to get darkly serious, especially when more bodies drop and living people mysteriously vanish. Despite Jack Tagger’s disdain for guns, he just might have to use one in order to see this case through. You can still chuckle at his wisecracks, just stay on the edge of your seat while it’s happening.

Of course, Jack Tagger isn’t the only colorful character you can expect great things from. Jimmy Stoma, even in death, is mentioned as a party animal with a deep soul and undying charisma. Emma Cole, the twenty-something editor at Jack’s paper, is a pain in the butt at first, but turns out to be a charming sweetheart once the reader gets to know her. Janet Thrush, Jimmy Stoma’s sister, has a day job as an internet stripper with a SWAT team gimmick; if that doesn’t pique your interest, I don’t know what will. Juan Rodriguez is a Cuban immigrant who is so good at writing newspaper stories that he might as well be a New York Times bestselling novelist.

And then you have the characters that deserve a stone-handed punch to the face. Cleo Rio, Jimmy Stoma’s widow, comes off as a shallow and spoiled pop princess with no appreciation for what her husband left behind. Jerry, Cleo’s chubby bodyguard, is a little harder to punch in the face due to his fighting abilities, but that doesn’t mean you won’t want to at least give it a try. Loreal is a bogus music producer with about as much credibility as the corporate profiteers running Jack’s newspaper outlet. Speaking of which, Race Maggad III (jokingly called “Master Race” by Jack Tagger) cares more about making money than he does about producing truthful news and his crippling budget cuts make that very clear.

The battlefield is set and the goofy characters are ready to clash with each other over the mystery of Jimmy Stoma’s suspicious death and the fate of realistic journalism. If you want a well-constructed mystery with quotable one-liners and a reliable narrator, grab a copy of “Basket Case” by Carl Hiaasen. To my knowledge, he hasn’t written a bad novel in all of the times I’ve read his work. I don’t think he knows how to!
Profile Image for Pamela.
314 reviews
September 5, 2021
What an entertaining book! I loved the main character, Jack Tagger. Interesting plot, witty dialogue, a bit of adventure, a bit of a mystery. Good writing.
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