There are (at least) two sides to Florida. The glitzy, Disney World, Key West and Sanibel Beach side, of course. Then there is the darker, seedy-motel, desperado side. The poet laureate of that low-rent world is my man, Tim Dorsey.
I know. No one is buying books any more. They are so — passe. But on the few days that the Red Sox take off from spring training, I had to duck into Barnes & Noble in Fort Myers to find Dorsey’s latest, “Electric Barracuda” (William Morrow, $24.99).
I have met Dorsey at several local reading festivals and even had him talk to my favorite cousin, Jerome, over the cell phone.
Plus, he is a member of that exclusive fraternity of former newspaper reporters, the finest people on Earth. When one reading festival fan asked Dorsey where he got his cheerfully bizarre ideas, he said, “I read Florida newspapers.”
You have to read them daily to believe them.
There is nothing like lying by the pool in a low-rent Florida motel, reading about “thermonuclear vigilante” Serge Storms and his totally blitzed pal, Coleman.
Storms is outraged at child perverts, gator poachers and investment bankers so he dispatches them whenever possible. No innocent civilians are harmed in the Dorsey productions.
Well, hardly ever.
Storms is up-to-date. He has tired of the constant second-rate police chase, mostly by Agent Mahoney at the wheel of his classic Crown Victoria. In order to make things more interesting, he opens a website and practically tells the police of his next stop. Of course he gets rooms at five different motels (mostly Motel 3), then watches the SWAT team storm (no pun intended) the wrong room.
There is a sort of “Fugitive” theme to the book. In fact, Storms carries CDs of the old television show from motel to motel. There is also a flashback appearance by Al Capone, who apparently fled Chicago whenever he could for the sunny shores of Florida. But forget that.
Dorsey claims exhaustive research so I believe him when Serge says “Florida is fugitive central. A single crackdown in 2008 called Operation Orange Crush netted 2,500 outlaws, which conservatively extrapolates to at least 100,000 left at large. That’s one for every three neighborhood blocks. And I like to drive around trying to guess which one.”
“Why Florida?” Coleman asks.
“We’ve got everything a murderous desperado could want: great weather, cool drinks, a million trailer parks, plus pharmacies and bank branches on every corner. Those qualities also attract retirees (like me) often to the same place, in a naturally occurring sitcom,” Dorsey said.
Got it? There is more.
“Up in Middle America, even one of these low-profile whack jobs would stick out like Pamela Anderson bronco-riding a UFO. A minimum of 50 calls to the cops. But down here, we are so oversaturated with hard-core street freaks that everyone energetically ignores them. We don’t want to notice and report each strangeness flare-up, or we’d totally cease to be able to run errands,” Storm lectured.
Driving a stolen ’69 Barracuda (hence the title), Storms visits all my favorite spots, chased by the SWAT truck, Mahoney’s Crown Vic and a shiny T-Bird with a mysterious and fabulous redhead at the wheel. There is also a glorious sendup of “Dog the Bounty Hunter.” If you hate Dog, you will love this part of the book.
Here is Dorsey’s take on St. Petersburg: “Downtown always held promise. Stunning back in its prime, then urban flight and decades of that desolate Post-Armageddon street-emptiness, which kept the developers’ wrecking ball at bay, preserving an exquisite mix of early 1900 architecture. Most of the old hotels are still there, curved canvas awnings extended over sidewalks. Some have become retirement homes. Others flophouses.”
He also flees through Matlacha and Pine Island, my favorite spot for bicycling and kayaking. I paddled out to Useppa Island (off Pine Island) last week, only to find out that a few miles away, a 600-pound dolphin jumped aboard a small fishing boat, just to say hello. I was quite pleased that he had not chosen my 13-foot Ocean Prowler for his greeting.
Useppa, Storms tells us, was a secret CIA training ground for Brigade 2506, which created such a flop at the Bay of Pigs. I chose to believe him.
The Marx Brothers chase with the SWAT team and Agent Mahoney naturally ends up in the Everglades, Ten Thousand Islands and Everglade City. I love Everglade City. The Miami Herald (where Dorsey worked) called Everglade City “the town that dope built.”
It was Everglade City where I once saw a brave camper who pitched his tent no more than 30 feet from a gator-filled inlet. I often wonder if he is still with us.
The ending makes as much sense as the rest of “Electric Barracuda,” but safe to say, Storms escapes to continue murdering murderers for another day.
As for me, atmospheric gas prices have kept me from kayaking in Everglade City and Chokoloskee, the very end of Florida.
Maybe next year. I hope that Dorsey has another Serge Storms installment ready, to get me through those long days at the low-rent pool, in between ball games.
Send complaints and compliments to Emmet Meara at firstname.lastname@example.org.