Once a hotshot investigative reporter, Jack Tagger now bangs out obituaries for a South Florida daily, "plotting to resurrect my newspaper 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," might be the stiff of Jack's dreams--if only he can figure out what happened. Standing in the way are (among others) his ambitious young editor, who hasn't yet fired anyone but plans to "break her cherry" on Jack; the rock star's pop-singer widow, who's using the occasion of her husband's death to re-launch her own career; and the soulless, profit-hungry owner of the newspaper, whom Jack once publicly humiliated at a stockholders' meeting. With clues from the dead rock singer's music, Jack ultimately unravels Jimmy Stoma's strange fate--in a hilariously hard-won triumph for muckraking journalism, and for the death-obsessed obituary writer himself. "Always be halfway prepared" is Jack Tagger's motto--and it's more than enough to guarantee a wickedly funny, brilliantly entertaining novel from Carl Hiaasen.
"There have been signs recently that Hiaasen has taken his unique brand of apocalyptic surrealism about as far as it could go--Sick Puppy (2000), though often hilarious, seemed a little too much like shtick--and, sure enough, this novel finds the author moving in a slightly different, less crazed direction. The story, about a onetime investigative reporter reduced to writing obituaries, reads much more like mainstream crime fiction than the blend of slapstick nightmare and moral outrage we have come to expect from Hiaasen. But it's a rip-roaringly entertaining tale, as the obit man, Jack Tagger, catches the scent of a real news story in the death notice for Jimmy Stoma, lead singer of the once-notorious Jimmy and the Slut Puppies. He follows the trail to a not-so-grieving wife and what looks to be a plot to steal Jimmy's comeback CD. When other members of the band die in suspicious circumstances ("Somebody's killing off the Slut Puppies!"), Tagger sees his chance to get back to the front page. Along the way, there's a surprisingly sweet romance with Tagger's editor and plenty of musing on the sorry state of contemporary journalism. Readers who love Hiaasen only for the slapstick elements of his work may see this novel as a bit old-fashioned, but others will appreciate the Nick-and-Nora banter and the spot-on glimpse of life in today's newsroom. Don't worry, though, there are still a few classic Hiaasen flourishes, like the dead lizard in Tagger's freezer and the running gag about how old various celebrities were when they died. Give Hiaasen credit for knowing that sometimes the best way to reinvent yourself is to retreat from the edge. --Bill Ott"
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Publisher's Weekly Review:
"Hiassen gets back to his roots with this (almost) straight-ahead mystery, but doesn't skimp on the funny stuff as he follows the adventures of Jack Tagger, down-on-his-luck journalist relegated to the obit beat at a smalltown Florida daily. While researching a death notice, Jack stumbles by accident upon an actual news story: former rocker Jimmy Stoma has drowned while diving in the Bahamas, and his widow, wannabe star Cleo Rio, can't convince Jack that his death was accidental. The mystery offers Jack a way out of his job-related death fixation ("It's an occupational hazard for obituary writers memorizing the ages at which famous people have expired, and compulsively employing such trivia to track the arc of one's own life") and toward his increasingly lusty feelings for Emma, his 27-year-old editor (" `Bring whipped cream,' I tell her, `and an English saddle' "). But when things turn violent and Jack suddenly has to defend himself with a giant frozen lizard, he enlists the help of his sportswriter friend Juan Rodriguez and teenage club scene veteran Carla Candilla to try to find out why someone is killing off has-been sleaze rockers. A hilarious sendup of exotic Floridian fauna in the newspaper business, the novel offers all the same treats Hiassen's fans have come to crave. What makes this book different is its first-person, present-tense narrative style. Unlike previous capers, which were narrated in the omniscient third person, this book settles squarely in the mystery genre from whence Hiaasen's fame (Double Whammy; Tourist Season, etc.) initially sprang. Despite the absence of perennial Hiaasen favorite Skink, this should make an easy job for Knopf's sales force even easier. (Jan. 9) Forecast: A 22-city author tour, a drive-time radio tour and national print and television advertising are all in the works for Basket Case. With first serial going to Rolling Stone and a 300,000-copy first printing, this looks like another bestselling sure bet for the Florida funnyman. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved"
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved