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.
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. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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December 31, 2002
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Excerpt from Basket Case by Carl Hiaasen
Regarding the death of James Bradley Stomarti: what first catches my attention is his age.
Thirty-nine. Thatýs seven years younger than I am.
Iým drawn to the young and old, but who isnýt? The most avidly read obituaries are of those who died too soon and those who lasted beyond expectations.
What everybody wants to know is: Why them? What was their secret? Or their fatal mistake? Could the same happen to me?
I like to know, myself.
Something else about James Bradley Stomarti: that name. Iým sure Iýve heard it before.
But thereýs no clue in the fax from the funeral home. Private service is Tuesday. Ashes to be scattered in the Atlantic. In lieu of flowers the family requests donations be made to the Cousteau Society. Thatýs classy.
I scan the list of ýsurvived-bysý and note a wife, sister, uncle, mother; no kids, which is somewhat unusual for a 39-year-old straight guy, which I assume (from his marital status) James Bradley Stomarti to be.
Tapping a key on my desktop, I am instantly wired into our morgue, although Iým the only one in the newsroom who still calls it that. ýResource Retrieval Centerý is what the memos say, but morgue is more fitting. Itýs here they keep all dead stories dating back to 1975, which in a newspaperýs memory is about as fresh as dinosaur dung.
I type in the name of the deceased. Bingo!
I am careful not to chuckle or even smile, as I donýt wish to alert my ever-watchful editor. Our newspaper publishes only one feature obituary each day; other deaths are capsulized in brief paragraphs or ignored altogether. For years the paper ran two daily full-length obits, but recently the Death page lost space to the Weather page, which had lost space to the Celebrity Eye page, which had lost space to Horoscopes. The shrunken news hole leaves room for only a single story, so I am now cagey about committing to a subject. My editor is not the flexible sort. Once I tell her whom Iým writing about, thereýs no turning back, even if someone far more interesting expires later in the news cycle.
Another good reason for not appearing too excited is that I donýt want anyone to suspect that the death of James Bradley Stomarti might be an actual news story; otherwise my editor will snatch it away and give it to one of our star feature writers, the way a cat presents a freshly killed rat on the doorstep. This piracy of newsworthy assignments is the paperýs way of reminding me that Iým still at the top of the shit list, that I will be there until pigs can fly, and that my byline will never again sully the front page.
So I say nothing. I sit at my desk and scroll through the computer files that inform me in colorful bits and pieces about the life of James Bradley Stomarti, better known to the world as Jimmy Stoma.
Thatýs right. The Jimmy Stoma.
As in Jimmy and the Slut Puppies.