Basket Case is about journalism, rock ‘n’ roll and mortality, plus a bit of sex from the lower end of the R rating. Because it’s a novel by Carl Hiaasen, it’s also funny as hell.
Carl Hiaasen’s books are pornography for journalists. It’s not the sex, though, that has us panting through his pages. It’s the wish fulfillment.
Here’s the all-purpose plot for Hiaasen’s books: a burnt-out reporter or private investigator starts snooping around a murder. Florida’s forces of evil – developers, politicians, theme park owners, quack doctors, televangelists, etc., and the thugs they employ – are somehow responsible. There’s a witty and sexy woman who’s either along for the ride or in peril. Greed imperils nature. The shit hits the fan. Righteous justice is meted out. The cast of recurring characters includes an eco-terrorist former governor of Florida named Skink and a cynical, Cuban-born Miami cop. Along the way there are references to old rock songs and journalism jokes. Sometimes the protagonist is an unbalanced and marginally wealthy young man, while other times the female character is stronger. The recipe has worked marvelously for Hiaasen’s eight previous novels, especially Skin Tight, Native Tongue and Strip Tease.
How does Basket Case stack up? Well, the environment isn’t in danger, none of the recurring characters show up and the villains aren’t as interesting as they used to be: none of them have, for instance, a weed-whacker for a prosthetic. It is bloody, though. A sampling of the violence: one drowning, one head crushed by a garbage truck, two buttocks shot, one and a half decapitations and a severe but not fatal bludgeoning with a 26-pound frozen lizard. The most noticeable thing about the book, for Hiaasen fans, is the narration.
All of Hiaasen’s previous novels were narrated in the third person and jumped between characters, but Basket Case is narrated in the first person and sticks with Jack Tagger. It’s a nod to classic detective fiction and it’s worth it. The first-person narration gives a good glimpse inside a reporter’s head.It’s also gives a good glimpse of a big, fat middle finger raised in the direction of Hiaasen’s employer, Knight-Ridder. KR owns the Miami Herald, where Hiaasen works as a columnist and used to be an investigative reporter. Management of Knight-Ridder passed to Tony Ridder in 1995, after which he moved the company’s headquarters from Florida to California and slashed newsroom budgets. In Basket Case, the Union-Register was bought up by Maggad-Feist (read “Maggot-Feast”), which is run by “Wall Street whorehoppers.” In particular, it’s run by Race Maggad III, who moved the company headquarters to San Diego so his sports cars wouldn’t rust and is “aiming for annual profits of 25 percent, a margin that would be the envy of most heroin pushers.” By sheer coincidence, Tony Ridder wants all Knight-Ridder papers to produce an annual 25 percent profit margin.
Tony Ridder is not mentioned in the “Acknowledgments” section.
Hiaasen would rather side with journalists who “dream of a day when young Race Maggad III is nabbed for insider trading or cheating the IRS or, even better, attaching a transvestite to his cock while cruising the shores of Sand Diego Bay in one of his classic Porsches.”
Brendan Buhler forgot to mention that Warren Zevon also cut a title track for this book. And yes, Buhler does own all of Hiaasen’s novels.