BASKET CASE by Carl Hiaasen (Knopf), 317 pages, $38.95 cloth. Rating: NN
carl hiaasen's just a little bit cranky these days, or in the midst of a full-blown midlife crisis -- either of which is unseemly in one who's had so much success. For his eighth novel, Basket Case, he's made the newspaper writer's classic mistake. He's written a mystery in which the central character is a newspaper writer investigating a possible murder. (Cross-reference to any number of mid-80s novels by Toronto Star writers.)
Erstwhile investigative reporter Jack Tagger has been consigned to the obituary page after publicly insulting the head of the media conglomerate that bought his Miami paper. He now finds himself on the trail of Jimmy Stoma, an 80s rocker who died, aged 39, in an apparent diving accident in the Bahamas. Along the way he must fend off the rocker's predatory 23-year-old widow, various thugs and his grammatically challenged Gen X editor.
Hiaasen's best novels -- Skintight, Native Tongue and Strip Tease -- are antic portraits of human corruptibility in a world where everyone is assumed to be for sale. In Basket Case, Hiaasen manages to bury his true subject matter -- corporate control of the news, worthy of a novel or two all by itself -- behind the mystery, which isn't all that interesting.
Like Elmore Leonard, Hiaasen takes a casual, if not downright loopy, approach to mystery plotting, which I usually don't mind because the dialogue crackles and the landscape verges on the surreal. Here, he gives us a middle-aged guy bitching about "these kids today." It doesn't really suit him. Write Books at email@example.com