13.1.10

Carl Hiaasen's Basket Case

Carl Hiaasen, journalist and former investigative reporter for The Miami Herald, is also a bestselling author of fiction for adults and children. His expertise as both crime investigator and journalist informs all his novels, fostering a style of writing that is concise, informative, and readable. Hiaasen’s novels have been translated into 34 languages and have attracted the notice of interviewers on 60 Minutes.

Basket Case begins with the news of Jimmy Stoma’s sudden death at the age of 39. A former rock star, Stoma apparently died in a mysterious diving accident. After Jack Tagger, obituary writer for a South Florida newspaper, interviews Stoma’s widow and sister, he becomes suspicious about the circumstances surrounding Stoma’s death. The mystery deepens as those closest to Stoma also become targets of murder.

Although the story is filled with suspense, it is not what distinguishes this novel. Hiaasen’s incredibly humorous observations are simply unrivalled by other novelists. “He’s just really, really funny,” admits Dave Barry, fellow Miami Herald journalist. “Even when I don’t agree with his point, I love the way he writes it.” Hiaasen’s light-hearted, witty tone is indeed compelling. Janet Maslin, in her New York Times review of the book, writes that “the real music here is in the swing of Mr. Hiaasen’s self-assured banter.”

Jack Tagger, in true hard-boiled fashion, is a diamond in the rough, heroic in his determination to fight for his beliefs. Not someone easily defeated, he does not bow to pressure or failure. Jack may sound funny, even light-hearted, but he is unrelenting in pursuing what is right and honorable, no matter what the personal consequences are.

Don’t be fooled by the humorous tone of the novel, or underestimate its serious themes. A distinguishing characteristic of Hiaasen’s fiction is the interweaving of social/moral issues with humour and mystery. Although Basket Case does not address the regional and ecological issues typical of his other novels, it does explore a topic he is deeply concerned about: the decline of the newspaper industry as it sells out to big business.

Hiaasen is a strong believer in the power of newspaper reporting. “Done well,” he writes in Basket Case, “journalism brings to light chicanery, oppression and injustice, though such concerns seldom weight heavily on those who own the newspapers” (250).

Fear of death and concern with mortality is also explored in the novel. As an obituary writer, Jack is preoccupied with thoughts of death, an obsession that adds both humour and depth to the novel.

Hiaasen “makes the personal and ethical dilemma of the journalist a central concern of many of his characters” (Paneck 2000, 104). Morality is not clear-cut in any of his novels and nowhere is this more apparent than in Basket Case. Jack must continually decide when and if he should break rules in his quest for justice.

Readers who love humorous mysteries, hard-boiled protagonists, and reflective writing will love Basket Case.

Hiaasen, Carl. Basket Case. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002.

Panek, LeRoy Lad. New Hard-Boiled Writers 1970s-1990s. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 2000.