Book #4 for 2011: Basket Case by Carl Hiaasen
My girlfriend Amy’s a fan of Carl Hiaasen. Her brother is a fan of Carl Hiaasen. An ex-boss of mine was a fan of Carl Hiaasen and once loaned me a copy of Hiaasen’s novel Stormy Weather, which I regrettably never got around to finishing. It seems like the whole world loves Carl Hiaasen and who am I not to give him a fair reading?
So I picked up Basket Case because it looked like fun. And it was. It’s not exactly a mystery novel because it’s pretty obvious almost from the beginning who the killer is. (I tried picking out a less likely suspect, but this proved pointless.) So call it crime fiction or even newspaper reporter fiction, if that’s a genre. It’s about a neurotic obituary writer who picks up a story about a recently deceased rock star who fronted an over-the-hill band called Jimmy and the Slut Puppies and decides he can use it to get a much-coveted front page assignment. (The title of the novel comes from one of the band’s moldy oldie hits, though it obliquely describes the obituary writer himself, who is obsessed with comparing his own age with the ages of dead celebrities, especially ones he hasn’t quite outlived yet.) The story turns into a murder case and Hiaasen complicates the plot by pitting the writer against the clueless rich kid whose family has taken over the paper he works for. Along the way Hiaasen demonstrates considerable knowledge of classic rock and namechecks a lot of actual performers and albums from the 60s through 80s, which suggests that Hiaasen is about the same age as I am. (I’ll check Wikipedia after I write this and see.)
All of this is breezy and fun, with a carefully constructed plot, some chuckles, and characters that are fresh and a little quirky without ever descending into zaniness. If I have a problem with the novel it’s a problem that I have with a lot of detective and mystery fiction: There’s not really a lot that stays with you afterward. I’m not sure if this is a complaint, exactly; the purpose of the book is clearly to provide light diversion and on that score it delivers. And, because Hiaasen’s unquestionably good at what he does, I’ll probably read more by him in the future.