Basket Case

Basket Case

4.0 56
by Carl Hiaasen

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Once a hotshot investigative reporter, middle-aged Jack Tagger now bangs out obituaries for a South Florida daily, "plotting to resurrect my newspaper career by yoking my byline to some famous stiff." Jimmy Stoma, the infamous front man of Jimmy and the Slut Puppies, might be the stiff of Jack's dreams: dead in a diving "accident" that gives off a fishy smell -- if

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Once a hotshot investigative reporter, middle-aged Jack Tagger now bangs out obituaries for a South Florida daily, "plotting to resurrect my newspaper career by yoking my byline to some famous stiff." Jimmy Stoma, the infamous front man of Jimmy and the Slut Puppies, might be the stiff of Jack's dreams: dead in a diving "accident" that gives off a fishy smell -- if only Jack can figure out what happened.

It won't be easy, with untimely interference from (among others) his ambitious young editor, who hasn't yet fired anyone but plans to "break her cherry" on Jack; the rock star's pop-singer widow, Cleo Rio, who's hiding something that requires a brutish bodyguard to protect (though he's no match for Jack's frozen lizard); and the soulless, profit-hungry owner of the newspaper, whom Jack once publicly humiliated at a stockholder's meeting.

With clues from the dead rock singer's own music, Jack ultimately unravels Jimmy's strange fate -- a hilariously hard-won triumph for the greater good of muckraking journalism, and for death-obsessed Jack himself.

"Always be prepared" is Jack's motto -- and it's more than enough to guarantee a wickedly funny, brilliantly entertaining Carl Hiaasen novel.

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Editorial Reviews
Jack Tagger's career is on the skids. Once a hotshot investigative reporter, the 46-year-old snoop has been reduced to being a lowly corpse chronicler, a writer of obituaries for a South Florida newspaper. Disconsolate and ever restless, he decides to resurrect his career by expanding his job. When a rock star dies in a diving "accident," Tagger doesn't just write his postmortem; he investigates the suspicious circumstances of his demise. This wickedly funny and delightfully irreverent novel will please anyone who loves a good mystery -- and a good laugh.

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Grand Central Publishing
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4.25(w) x 6.87(h) x 1.50(d)

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Regarding the death of James Bradley Stomarti: what first catches my attention is his age.
Thirty-nine. That’s seven years younger than I am.
I’m drawn to the young and old, but who isn’t? The most avidly read obituaries are of those who died too soon and those who lasted beyond expectations.
What everybody wants to know is: Why them? What was their secret? Or their fatal mistake? Could the same happen to me?
I like to know, myself.
Something else about James Bradley Stomarti: that name. I’m sure I’ve heard it before.
But there’s no clue in the fax from the funeral home. Private service is Tuesday. Ashes to be scattered in the Atlantic. In lieu of flowers the family requests donations be made to the Cousteau Society. That’s classy.
I scan the list of “survived-bys” and note a wife, sister, uncle, mother; no kids, which is somewhat unusual for a 39-year-old straight guy, which I assume (from his marital status) James Bradley Stomarti to be.
Tapping a key on my desktop, I am instantly wired into our morgue, although I’m the only one in the newsroom who still calls it that. “Resource Retrieval Center” is what the memos say, but morgue is more fitting. It’s here they keep all dead stories dating back to 1975, which in a newspaper’s memory is about as fresh as dinosaur dung.
I type in the name of the deceased. Bingo!
I am careful not to chuckle or even smile, as I don’t wish to alert my ever-watchful editor. Our newspaper publishes only one feature obituary each day; other deaths are capsulized in brief paragraphs or ignored altogether. For years the paper ran two dailyfull-length obits, but recently the Death page lost space to the Weather page, which had lost space to the Celebrity Eye page, which had lost space to Horoscopes. The shrunken news hole leaves room for only a single story, so I am now cagey about committing to a subject. My editor is not the flexible sort. Once I tell her whom I’m writing about, there’s no turning back, even if someone far more interesting expires later in the news cycle.
Another good reason for not appearing too excited is that I don’t want anyone to suspect that the death of James Bradley Stomarti might be an actual news story; otherwise my editor will snatch it away and give it to one of our star feature writers, the way a cat presents a freshly killed rat on the doorstep. This piracy of newsworthy assignments is the paper’s way of reminding me that I’m still at the top of the shit list, that I will be there until pigs can fly, and that my byline will never again sully the front page.
So I say nothing. I sit at my desk and scroll through the computer files that inform me in colorful bits and pieces about the life of James Bradley Stomarti, better known to the world as Jimmy Stoma.
That’s right. The Jimmy Stoma.
As in Jimmy and the Slut Puppies.
Stashed somewhere in my apartment is one of their early albums, Reptiles and Amphibians of North America. Jimmy sang lead and sometimes played rhythm guitar. He also fooled around with the harmonica. I remember really liking one of the band’s singles, “Basket Case,” off an album called Floating Hospice. That one I lost to a departing girlfriend. Jimmy was no Don Henley, but the ladies found him very easy on the eyes. The guy could carry a tune, too.
Stoma also got arrested on a regular basis, and was unfailingly booked under his given name. That’s how I got the computer to hit on “James Bradley Stomarti.”
From the morgue:
December 13, 1984: With Steven Tyler, John Entwistle and Joan Jett in attendance, Jimmy Stoma marries a chorine turned professional wrestler in Las Vegas. He is arrested later that evening for urinating on Engelbert Humperdinck’s stretch limousine.
February 14, 1986: Mrs. Stoma files for divorce, alleging her husband is addicted to alcohol, cocaine and aberrant sex. The Slut Puppies open a three-night stint at Madison Square Garden, and from the stage Jimmy introduces his new girlfriend, a performance artist who goes by the name of Mademoiselle Squirt.
May 14, 1986: Stoma is arrested for indecent exposure during a Charlotte, North Carolina, concert in which he takes an encore wearing nothing but a Day-Glo condom and a rubber Halloween mask in the likeness of the Rev. Pat Robertson.
January 19, 1987: With the Slut Puppies’ fourth album, A Painful Burning Sensation, poised to go triple platinum, Jimmy Stoma announces he is canceling the band’s long-awaited tour. Insiders say the singer is self-conscious about his weight, which has inflated to 247 pounds since he gave up cocaine. Stoma insists he’s simply taking a break from live performing to work on “serious studio projects.”
November 5, 1987: Jimmy Stoma is arrested in Scottsdale, Arizona, after punching a People magazine photographer who had tailed him to the gates of the Gila Springs Ranch, an exclusive spa specializing in holistic crash-dietary programs.
November 11, 1987: For the second time in a week, Stoma is busted, this time for shoplifting a bundt cake and two chocolate eclairs from a downtown Phoenix bakery.
February 25, 1989: Stoma and an unidentified woman are injured when his waterbike crashes into the SS Norway in the Port of Miami. The collision causes no damage to the cruise ship, but surgeons say it might be months before Stoma can play the guitar again.
September 25, 1991: Stoma’s first solo album, Stomatose, is panned by both Spin and Rolling Stone. After debuting at number 22 on the Billboard pop charts, it plummets within two weeks to number 97 before—
This would be my editor, the impossible Emma.
“What’d you do to your hair?” I say.
“You most certainly did.”
“Jack, I need a story line for the budget.”
“It looks good shorter,” I say. Emma hates it when I pretend to flirt. “Your hair, I mean.”
Emma reddens but manages a dismissive scowl. “I trimmed the bangs. What’ve you got for me?”
“Nothing yet,” I lie.
Emma is edging closer, trying to sneak a glance at the screen of my desktop. She suspects I am dialing up porn off the Internet, which would be a fireable offense. Emma has never fired anyone but would dearly love to break her cherry on me. She is not the first junior editor to feel that way.
Emma is young and owns a grinding ambition to ascend the newspaper’s management ladder. She hopes for an office with a window, a position of genuine authority and stock options.
Poor kid. I’ve tried to steer her to a profession more geared toward her talents—retail footwear, for example—but she will not listen.
Craning her pale neck, Emma says, “Rabbi Levine died last night at East County.”
“Rabbi Klein died Monday,” I remind her. “Only one dead clergyman per week, Emma. It’s in my contract.”
“Then get me something better, Jack.”
“I’m working on it.”
“Who is James Stomarti?” she asks, peeking at my computer screen. With her intense jade-green eyes, Emma has the bearing of an exotic falcon.
I say, “You don’t know? He was a musician.”
“Local guy?”
“He had a place on Silver Beach,” I say, “and one in the Bahamas.”
“Never heard of him,” Emma says.
“You’re too young.”
Emma looks skeptical, not flattered. “I think more people will care about Rabbi Levine.”
“Then bump him to Metro,” I suggest brightly.
Emma, of course, isn’t keen on that idea. She and the Metropolitan editor don’t get along.
“It’s Sunday,” I remind her. “Nothing else is happening in the free world. Metro can give the rabbi a fine send-off.”
Emma says, “This musician—how old was he?”
Now I’ve got her chummed up.
Emma says coolly, “So, how’d he die?”
“I don’t know.”
“Probably drugs,” she muses, “or suicide. And you know the rule on suicides, Jack.”
Newspapers customarily do not report a private death as a suicide, on the theory it might plant the idea in the minds of other depressed people, who would immediately rush out and do themselves in. These days no paper can afford to lose subscribers.
There is, however, a long-standing journalistic exception to the no-suicide rule.
“He’s famous, Emma. The rule goes out the window.”
“He’s not famous. I never heard of him.”
Again she is forcing me to insult her. “Ever heard of Sylvia Plath?” I ask.
“Of course.”
“Do you know why you’ve heard of her, Emma? Because she stuck her head in an oven. That’s what she’s famous for.”
“Jack, you’re not funny.”
“Otherwise she’s just another brilliant, obscure, unappreciated poet,” I say. “Fame enhances death, but death also enhances fame. That’s a fact.”
Emma’s fine-boned lower jaw is working back and forth. She’s itching to tell me to go screw myself but that would constitute a serious violation of management policy, a dark entry in an otherwise promising personnel file. I feel for her, I really do.
“Emma, let me do some checking on Stomarti.”
“In the meantime,” she says sharply, “I’ll be holding twelve inches for Rabbi Levine.”
A death notice isn’t the same as an obituary. A death notice is a classified advertisement written and paid for by the family of the deceased, and sent to newspapers by the funeral home as part of its full-service package. Death notices usually are printed in a small type known as agate, but they can be as long-winded and florid as the family desires. Newspapers are always happy to sell the space.
The death notice of Jimmy Stoma was remarkable for its brevity, and for what was omitted:
STOMARTI, James Bradley, 39, passed away Thursday in the Berry Islands. A resident of Silver Beach since 1993, Jim was a successful businessman who was active in his church and neighborhood civic groups. He loved golf, sailing and diving, and raised thousands of dollars to help restore damaged coral reefs in the Florida Keys and the Bahamas. A cherished friend, devoted brother and beloved husband, he will be deeply missed by his wife, Cynthia Jane, and his sister Janet Stomarti Thrush of Beckerville. A private family mass will be held Tuesday morning at St. Stephen’s Church, followed by a brief shipboard ceremony near the Ripley Lighthouse, where Jim wished to have his mortal remains committed. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that contributions be made to the Cousteau Society, in Jim’s memory.
Odd. No trace of his life as a Slut Puppy, the six million records sold, the MTV video awards, the Grammy. Music wasn’t even listed among his hobbies.
Maybe Jimmy Stoma had wanted it that way; maybe he had worked so hard to put the wild years behind him that he’d wanted nothing, not even his own death, to revive the past.
Sorry, pal, I’ll try to be gentle.
There is no James or J. Stomarti in the county phone book, but a Janet Thrush is listed in Beckerville. A woman picks up on the third ring. I tell her who I am and what I’m writing.
“Sorry,” she says, “it’s a bad time.”
“You’re Jimmy’s sister?”
“That’s right. Look, can you call back in a couple days?”
Here comes the dicey part when I’ve got to explain—very delicately—that when it comes to obituaries, it’s now or never. Wait forty-eight hours and nobody at the paper will give a rat’s ass about your dead brother.
Nothing personal. It’s the nature of news.
“The story’s running tomorrow,” I tell his sister. “I really hate to bother you. And you’re right, there’s lots of stuff I could use from our clippings. . . .”
I let this ghastly prospect sink in. Nobody deserves an obituary constructed exclusively from old newspaper stories.
“I’d prefer chatting with those who knew him best,” I say. “His death is going to be a shock for lots of people all over the country. Your brother had so many fans. . . .”
“Fans?” Janet Thrush is testing me.
“Yeah. I was one of them.”
On the other end: an unreadable silence.
“Jimmy Stoma,” I press on. “Of Jimmy and the Slut Puppies. It is the same James Stomarti, right?”
His sister says, quietly, “That was a long time ago.”
“People will remember. Trust me.”
“Well, that’s good. I guess.” She sounds unsure.
I say, “There wasn’t much information in the death notice.”
“I wouldn’t know. I didn’t see it.”
“About his music, I mean.”
“You talk to Cleo?”
“Who’s that?” I ask.
“His wife.”
“Oh. The funeral home gave the name as Cynthia.”
“She goes by Cleo,” says Jimmy’s sister. “Cleo Rio. The one and only.”
When I say I’ve never heard of her, Jimmy’s sister chuckles. A television murmurs in the background. Meet the Press, it sounds like.
“Well, pretend you know who Cleo is,” she advises, “and I guarantee she’ll give you an interview.”
Obviously Sis and the widow have some issues. “What about you?” I ask.
“Lord, don’t mention my name.”
“That’s not what I meant,” I say. “I was hoping you would talk to me. Just a few quick questions? I’m sorry, but I’m on a tight deadline—”
“After you get hold of Cleo,” Jimmy’s sister says, “call me back.”
“Do you have her phone number?”
“Sure.” She gives it to me, then says: “I’ve got an address, too. You ought to go out to the condo.”
“Good idea,” I say, but I hadn’t planned to leave the newsroom. I can do five phoners in the time it takes to drive to Silver Beach and back.
Jimmy’s sister says, “You want to get this story right, you gotta go meet Cleo.” She pauses. “Hey, I’m not tryin’ to tell you how to do your job.”
“I appreciate the help, but just tell me one thing. How’d your brother die? Was he sick?”
She knows exactly what I mean. “Jimmy’s been straight for nine years,” she says.
“Then what happened?”
“It was an accident, I guess.”
“What kind of accident?”
“Go ask Cleo,” says Jimmy’s sister, and hangs up.
I’m on my way out the door when Emma cuts me off. She’s almost a whole foot shorter than I am; sneaky, too. I seldom see her coming.
She says, “Did you know Rabbi Levine took up hang gliding at age seventy? That’s good stuff, Jack.”
“Did he die in his hang glider, Emma? Crash into the synagogue, by chance?”
“No,” she concedes. “Stroke.”
I shrug. “Nice try, but I’m off to visit the widow Stomarti.”
Emma doesn’t budge. “I like the rabbi better.”
Hell. Now she’s forcing me to show my cards. I glance quickly around the newsroom and notice, with some relief, that none of the young superstars are working today. That’s one good thing about a Sunday shift, the newsroom is like a tomb. Emma wants to take away my story, she’ll have to write the damn thing herself.
And Emma, bless her sorority-sister soul, has never been a reporter. Judging by the strenuous syntax of her memos, she likely would have difficulty composing a thank-you note.
So, here goes.
“James Stomarti was Jimmy Stoma,” I say.
Emma’s brow crinkles. She senses that she ought to know the name. Rather than admitting she doesn’t, she waits me out.
“Of Jimmy and the Slut Puppies,” I prompt.
“No kidding.”
“Remember that song, ‘Basket Case’?”
“Sure.” Emma turns slightly, her raptor eyes scanning the rows of cubicles. The plan, I know, is to hand off Stoma to another reporter and dispatch me to do the dead rabbi.
But Emma’s coming up empty. The only warm body on the city desk is Griffin, the weekend cop guy. Griffin is sixty years old, nasty and untouchable. Emma has no authority over the police reporters. Griffin looks up from his desktop and stares right through her, as if she were smoke.
With a trace of a frown, Emma turns back to me. “Suicide, right?”
“Nope. Accident.”
Grudgingly, Emma moves out of my way. “Twelve inches,” she says curtly. “That’s all we’ve got, Jack.”
“For a dead rock star,” I say drily, “a Grammy Award–winning musician who dies tragically at age thirty-nine? Honey, I promise you the New York Times will give it more than twelve inches.”
Emma says, “Not on the Death page, they won’t.”
I smile. “That’s right. Not there.”
Emma’s expression darkens. “Ungh-ugh, Jack. I’m not pushing this for Page One. No way!”
Jesus, what a hoot. The Times won’t put Jimmy Stoma out front—he’ll be lucky to end up as the lead obit. But Emma’s in a sweat, rattled at the possibility of me breaking out of the dungeon. No doubt she perceives that as a career-threatening crisis, for part of her mission as a junior editor is to see that I remain crushed, without hope of redemption. The next best thing to canning me would be to make me quit in disgust, which of course I’ll never do.
This is too much fun.
I say to Emma: “You might mention Stoma in the budget meeting, just in case.”
“Twelve inches, Jack,” she reiterates sternly.
“Because my guess is, there’s at least one Slut Puppies fan on the masthead.” I’m referring to Abkazion, the new managing editor, who is my age and works weekends.
“Fifteen inches, max,” amends Emma.
I wave goodbye with my spiral notebook, and stride toward the elevator. “We’ll talk when I get back from visiting Mrs. Stomarti.”
“What kind of accident?” Emma calls after me. “How did he die? Jack?”

From the Audio Cassette edition.

Copyright 2002 by Carl Hiaasen

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Basket Case 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 54 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Like many Nelson DeMille novels, Carl Hiaasen writes his 'Basket Case' from the first person viewpoint. And like many of DeMille's protagonists, obit writer Jack Tagger tells us the story with a smart-assed dialogue. Dead is James Bradley Stomarti, also know as, Jimmy Stoma. You know. The Jimmy Stoma, lead singer in his band, Jimmy and the Slut Puppies. The Slut Puppies were famous for the hit single 'Basket Case' from the 'Floating Hospice' album. That Jimmy Stoma. Anyway, to bring you up to date, he died. It seems that Jimmy was a regular rocker too. Like many of his peers he was into alcohol, drugs, and had a rap sheet longer than his Fender guitar. He'd been arrested on a regular basis for such things as; indecent exposure, (he was caught wearing a rubber Pat Robinson mask and a day-glow condom), he crashed his SeaDoo in to the SS Norway, gets popped for whizzing on Englebert Humperdink's limo, got busted for stealing a bundt cake, you name it. All in all, this makes for a very interesting and 'obit worthy' character. According to Jack Tagger, anyway. Jimmy's death may not have been an accident, and so the mystery begins. Jack, the obit writer, has his suspicions. While Jack's editor, Emma, has the 'hots' for Jack. This is where the sexual tension weaves its way into the storyline. I mention Emma because Carl Hiaasen is a master of great dialogue and great characterization. Taggar describes Emma: 'Emma has the bearing of an exotic falcon.' Those eight words told me everything that I needed to know about Emma. This one is five stars and highly recommended. I know you will enjoy 'Basket Case' as much as I did.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Hiaasen weaves a complex yarn and mystery with the sprinkling of a multitude of diverse low-life South Floridian skirt/dope/land/buck chasers -- all resulting in a mix of horrific and humorous results for the reader looking for "the real hero" of the story. Read all his works!
SuzyWatts More than 1 year ago
This is my first experience of a Carl Hiaasen book. My husband read it before I did, and he was rolling about with laughter every time he picked it up. On his suggestion, I gave Basket Case a try, and was soon caught up in the antics of the lead character. Jack Tagger is a journalist whose career has seen better days, but due to a faux pas in his past, he is now writing obituaries for a local Florida newspaper. When a famous rock singer is killed in a scuba diving accident, he begins to investigate the circumstances surrounding the death, which does not please his bosses. He uncovers a complicated and confusing trail of events, which take him to the Caribbean and California in his quest for a front page story to revive his flagging career. Finding the truth about the death of the victim tests his journalistic skills to the limit, and he has to overcome many obstacles to reach the truth. We meet the family and friends of Jimmy Stoma, the dead singer in question, and the members of his old band the Slut Puppies. His widow is a singer, who is planning to revive her career with a new song. His sister disappears after her house is broken into, and there are other deaths to explain along the way. Jack is at loggerheads with his immediate boss, Emma, who wants him to write an obituary on a dead rabbi and leave the pop star story alone, but he continues to delve and he eventually gets to write the front page story that he has been looking for. He now hopes that his time in the doldrums of newspaper journalism is over, and his career will hit the heights he has been working towards. Fast paced, funny, and entertaining.
heavyreader More than 1 year ago
I love, love, love Carl Hiaasen's writing style. Witty, full of plot twists, always a page turner. Well done.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am slowly chipping away at Mr. Hiaasen's books. Read Tourist Season, Skin Tight and Skinny Dip. So far, Basket case was my favorite. Absolutely loved Jack. Sure, the storyline was predictable but loved the dialogue and the different scenarios that Jack and his friends found himself in. From the time I started reading, I absolutely could not put down and read in one whole day. Looking forward to reading the others.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Basket Case was a boring, predictable story. The characters weren't interesting, yet they were vial and no punchline was funny. Skip it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is the second of Carl's novels that I've read. The first, Sick Puppy, made me laugh til I cried, and Basket Case had a few of those moments as well. I love Jack. He's the kind of person I'll probably turn into- bitter, obessed, hopeful. I would have given this review 5 stars. However- the epilogue did me in. I was very disappointed in Carl tieing all the loose ends up in a pretty little bow. Either write it into the book or leave us wondering.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Basket Case is not as funny as other Hiaasen fare, but worth the read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Basket Case has more lighthearted dark humor in it than I have ever seen before in one book. Most people who use dark humor seem to have a heavy load on their souls, which weighs down the humor as well. Mr. Hiaasen writes in this book with the lightness of a French champagne bubble. The dark humor becomes like a butterfly net that captures our attention rather than a black spot that blights our existence. What makes the humor so much more appealing is that he draws on real incidents to help draw the comic portraits of his characters. Mr. Hiaasen doesn¿t have a high opinion of music industry wannabes, druggies, cultural destroying tycoons. At the same time, he has an appreciation for journalism (since he is a journalist, should that surprise you?), good writing, and investigative reporting. Since his views match mine pretty well and I like crime comedy, Basket Case was a book that had to enjoy. Sure enough, I found myself staying up past midnight to finish it. What makes the book amount to more than the usual well-written comic novel is that Mr. Hiaasen has a fine ironic sense that he employs to make the plot much more delicious. Why, then, didn¿t I think this was a five-star book? Basket Case is a triumph of style over substance. All of this talent should have been aimed at a larger target. Mr. Hiaasen could have told us a story that would have informed us more about our own lives than this ones does. He shows the danger of being stalled in our thinking, holds out hope that goodness will prevail, and that phoniness will be punished, but the story is too remote from our own lives to allow the stinging irony to take effect on our minds and souls. Enjoy a good laugh! I did come away with a strong desire to have Mr. Hiaasen has a friend. He seems like a great human being. I hope you like him, too. Donald Mitchell, co-author of The 2,000 Percent Solution and The Irresistible Growth Enterprise
Guest More than 1 year ago
Another high five to Hiaasen for his ninth and latest Florida based thriller, 'Basket Case.' Popular novelist and columnist for the Miami Herald, this prolific author has been garnering fans since his debut novel, 'Tourist Season' (1986) through Strip Tease, Stormy Weather, etc. He lives up to his file of praise press with this hilarious and highly entertaining take on a down-on-his-luck investigative reporter. Forty-six-year-old Jack Tagger has been reduced to penning obits for a South Florida paper under the watchful eyes of his editor 'the impossible Emma.' Ever hopeful, Jack is wishing for a hot story to revive his standstill career. It may be his lucky day when he notes the death of James Bradley Stomarti. Bells don't ring but cogs slip into place, when after a few clicks of his computer, he discovers that the recently departed is known to many as Jimmy Stoma, lead singer for Jimmy and the Slut Puppies. Seems that Jimmy went to his reward via a diving accident. Jack doesn't think so. He's off to discover the truth. Truth is a hard to come by commodity without the blessings of his editor, to say nothing of the blocks put up by Jimmy's non-grieving widow and the greedy, aggrieved owner of the newspaper whom Jack once had the poor judgment to insult in public. As always, Hiiasen takes readers on a merry chase and full throttle ride to a fantastic finish.
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This is Light Herd territory! -Sun
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