- Nuclear Jellyfish: A Novel
- William Morrow, 320 pp.
Florida On Acid Afterburner
When it comes to mayhem, lunacy, and all things eccentric, Tim Dorsey’s Serge Storm doesn’t take backseat to anyone — not to anybody or anything dreamed up by Hunter Thompson (or even practiced personally by the good doctor himself), by Carl Hiaasen or the great Florida crime novelist Charles Willeford. Of course Serge would never be anywhere but behind the wheel of some vintage automobile like say a two-tone 1971 AMC Javelin as he and his cohort, the terminally drunk and stoned Coleman, race madly from one historic location to another in Florida. In our somewhat psychotically inclined hero’s eyes the backseat is for hapless hitchhikers and unsuspecting victims of this cavalcade of madness.
In Nuclear Jellyfish, the eleventh in the frenetic series that began with the bucolic Florida Roadkill in 1999, Serge, a manic collector of sunshine state trivia, souvenirs and esoteric methods of murder, is upset that his beloved homeland isn’t getting the proper tourista recognition it deserves, so he hooks up with internet travel services writing a blog that details esoteric facts about bars, long-gone motels, and other arcane structures spiced with tips on how to avoid being murdered and Coleman’s insights on where to score the best drugs. His new electronic employers are less than thrilled with the approach, but nothing deters our hero as he navigates his way through tutoring strippers working their way through college, warring stamp and coin dealers that may have escaped from Dance Fever, a tattoo gone horribly wrong, a stool Robert De Niro once sat on and the machinations of Serge’s arch nemesis, Agent Mahoney, a man none too sane himself. And as always, Home Depot plays a key role in Serge’s death defying and death dealing heroics.
To take on one of Dorsey’s books is to suspend notions of political correctness (thankfully) and the sadly homogeneous behavior associated with society’s coercing decency. The novels are an energized romp through the craziness of modern Florida with humorously illuminating excursions into the Sunshine State’s past, and oh if only high school history texts had been as fun to read. For example this item about Florida gubernatorial history where the boys give a lift to a former governor after a speaking engagement:
“Coleman! Behave!” Serge turned back around. “Sorry about that. This is my associate, Coleman. Coleman, this is Claude Kirk, the oldest living governor of Florida, elected 1966, also known as Claudius Maximus for how he shook the good-ol’-boy power structure to its knees and sent rascals scampering back under their rocks. I’m Serge!”
“You mentioned that,” said the governor, shaking hands.
“So what are you doing after this? Fighting crime?”
“Got a ride?”
“Someone’s supposed to pick me up.”
“We’ll give you a lift.”
“Appreciate the gesture.” The governor looked at his watch, then scanned the street.
“Coleman,” said Serge. “You’ll love this. A few years back, the governor was being questioned on the witness stand in some court case by F. Lee Bailey, who asked Kirk to identify himself, and state for the record what he used to do. And he said he was a former governor of Florida. And Bailey asked what he was now, and Kirk said, ‘A has-been just like you.’”
The governor laughed. “That really pissed them off.”
Dorsey was a reporter and editor for the Tampa Tribune from 1987 to 1999, so he has plenty of material to draw on for his novels that also include Hammerhead Ranch Motel, Torpedo Juice and Atomic Lobster.
When Serge isn’t running from place to place or scheming and watching videos of the state in various motel rooms, he is often devising and implementing unique ways to kill individuals who to his way of thinking are menaces to society. This normally happens when he forgets to take his various medications, which is most of the time. As yet unidentified, his murderous ways — methods that have included the use of a lawn irrigation hose, expanding and quick-hardening foam, and, of course, duct tape — have earned him a perhaps mildly unjust reputation as the state’s most notorious serial killer. Serge does agree and remember, PC freaks need not apply.
The beauty of these books aside from the unique twists and characters is their fast pace, humor and complications that always tie together in curious fascination at the end; and Serge’s meticulously insane approach to life and the road. Like any dedicated crazy, everything Serge does makes perfect and just sense to Serge.
Coleman exhaled pot out the window. “Why are you driving so slow?”
“Hunting down the perfect parking place,” said Serge. The perfect space is absolutely essentially. Sets the whole tone for your visit. But it looks like everyone else already grabbed the perfect tone, and this inconsiderate asshole parked too far over the line for me to fit, so I’ll have to come back and deflate his tires to downgrade his tone.”
The joint pointed out the window. “There’s a great spot.”
“I see it,” said Serge.
“So why aren’t you parking there?
“But you just drove by.”
Have to get extra room so I can back in. Always back in a Florida motel. Serge’s travel tip number forty-two.”
“See that police car patrolling the other side of the parking lot? What do you think he’s doing?”
Hotel security,” said Coleman. “Make sure people don’t break into cars and stuff.”
Serge shook his head. “In Minnesota they patrol for guest safety. In Florida, they’re looking for guests.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Notice the device he’s pointing out the window?”
“Checking for fugitive license plates. That’s an optical reader, which transmits plate numbers back to headquarters and the national crime computer. You wouldn’t believe the ridiculous amounts of warrants they turn up.”
“And that’s why you always back into hotel parking slots?”
“The haul of criminals is so robust they don’t have the man-hours to get out of their patrol cars and check plates backed up against shrubs.”
I hope that Dorsey continues with the series. It doesn’t appear that he’s running out of steam or twisted ideas for the books. As Serge says:
“…Appreciate God’s gift of this beautiful day where the Florida sun is shining and my gas tank’s full. Now I’m so happy I could burst! Off we go!”
John Holt and his wife, photographer Ginny Holt, are currently finishing up a pair of related books – “Yellowstone Drift: Floating the Past in Real-Time” (to be published by AK Press in February 2009) and “Searching For Native Color – Fly Fishing for Cutthroat Trout.” John’s work has appeared in publications that include “Men’s Journal,” “Fly Fisherman,” “Fly Rod and Reel,” “The Angling Report,” “American Angler,” “The Denver Post,” “Audubon,” “Briarpatch,” “counterpunch.org,” “Travel and Leisure,” “Art of Angling Journal,” “E – The Environmental Magazine,” “Field and Stream,” “Outside,” “Rolling Stone,” “Gray’s Sporting Journal” and “American Cowboy.” Chesapeake Bay Bridge