Jack Tagger is a reporter. Death is his beat. Only this isn’t Michael Connelly’s The Poet. This is Carl Hiassen’s South Florida, and Tagger is a once-hot investigative reporter now exiled to the obituary page. He lives for two things: Needling his comely young editor Emma, whom he secretly has a yen for, and annoying the hell out of publisher Race Maggad III (“Master Race,” Tagger calls him, once to his face.) One day, Tagger is stunned by the death of James Stomarti in a diving accident. Stomarti is the legal name of Jimmy Stoma, an eighties rock star who led a band called the Slut Puppies. Tagger scores an interview with his sexy young widow, singer Cleo Rio, and writes an obit that briefly gets him onto the Metro page.
Only Stomarti’s sister shows Tagger how it wasn’t an accident. He convinces Emma to let him pull the thread and find out what really happened. He ends up meeting two Slut Puppies as really bad things happen to them, one before and one after. He witnesses the “depths” of Cleo’s talent when she “sings” at her late husband’s funeral. And he beats a man nearly to death with a frozen monitor lizard. I suppose that last more than makes up for the absence of Skink, Hiassen’s ex-Florida governor who wandered out of the statehouse one day and has lived a life of a swamp man in the Everglades. Let’s just assume Skink was in the bushes watching in a fight scene that takes place in the Glades.
Hiassen’s sense of the absurd is on full display here. The monitor lizard aside, one character dies when a truck runs over his head. Race Maggad is prevented from touching Tagger through the machinations of the paper’s previous owner, who happens to be Maggad’s company’s biggest stockholder. And the only reason the old man loves Tagger is because Maggad despises him. And Cleo?
I suspect Hiassen wishes all this happened to Mariah Carey early in her career. The 90’s would have been so much more bearable for him. I agree.