Thursday, September 11, 2008

Basket Case – Carl Hiaasen

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 sister 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 Gaiman.

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