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Hey, Hey, We’re the Slut Puppies: Basket Case

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.

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About Christopher Lampton

Chris Lampton, a cofounder of the e-book design firm Illuminated Pages (see link in my Blogroll), is a writer, an editor, an occasional computer programmer, a voracious reader, and a fanatic video game player. In the course of his distinguished if haphazard career he has written more than 90 books, including the 1993 computer book bestseller Flights of Fantasy (Waite Group Press). He lives in Los Angeles with his girlfriend Amy and two cats, and now spends much of his available time editing and rewriting novels for self-published authors.

3 responses »

  1. Great review.

    I can relate to what you wrote about most “thrillers” not staying with you.

    The only ones that have even lingered in my thoughts for more than a few days are:

    “The Neon Rain” by James Lee Burke
    “Gone Baby Gone” by Dennis Lehane
    “A Simple Plan” by Scott Smith
    “The Killer Inside Me” by Jim Thompson

    These are the ones that immediately come to mind.

    Reply
  2. Christopher Lampton

    I absolutely love A Simple Plan, a book with both a powerful theme (No man is a villain to himself) and a nearly perfect suspense throughline from first incident to last. (Somewhere in here I discuss Scott Smith’s other book, The Ruins.) Another I love is The Silence of the Lambs, where Hannibal Lecter is a much more complex and frightening character on the page than the cartoon played by Anthony Hopkins in the films. Gone Baby Gone is on my current reading list. But as much as I love the thriller genre in theory, I find most to be formulaic, forgettable and short on believable characters.

    Reply

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