"Naked Came the Florida Man," Tim Dorsey, William Morrow, 326 pages, $27.99.
The title of Tim Dorsey's 22nd novel about Serge Storms was "No Sunscreen for the Dead." A few months ago, during a talk I gave on Florida crime fiction, I called that the ultimate Tim Dorsey title.
Days later, I got an early copy of his 23rd book: "Naked Came the Florida Man."
I commented on social media that it was as if Tim had heard me and said, "Hold my beer." His reply: "Yep, that's pretty much how it happened."
Upping the ante has always been the strategy for Dorsey's books, which are built on that peculiarly Floridian brand of outrageousness that also spawned the viral figure of the title, Florida Man.
Dorsey's fictional Florida man has been around since before viral was a thing, although Serge Storms differs in significant ways from those jokers who get famous for things like ill-advised interaction with alligators.
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Serge is way smarter than the average Florida man, and he's a walking encyclopedia of Florida history. Also, he kills people -- but only if they're asking for it, and always with a creative flourish.
Dorsey structures his plots around Serge's road trips with his stoner pal, Coleman, and in "Naked Came the Florida Man" they're visiting the burial sites of some of the state's most notable residents. Many of them are literary, like the interrelated trio of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Zora Neale Hurston and Stetson Kennedy. Others are pop culture figures, like Flipper. And some are unspeakably tragic, like those in the mass graves of the more than 2,000 victims of the 1928 hurricane that turned Lake Okeechobee into a wall of water that destroyed everything in its path.
The plot circles around the lake, which, Serge says, "I like to think of as Florida's moon." He, Coleman and their newly acquired emotional support ferret, Zippy, end up on its north side in the town of Okeechobee, where Serge finds a girlfriend and the whole gang attends a rodeo, with odd results: "I never thought I would utter this sentence," he says, "but you can't smoke dope in a clown barrel."
Along the way, Serge runs across some of those people whom he just can't let live. Join a small-town church choir so you can hornswoggle elderly residents out of their homes? Get your little nephews to feed fizzing tummy medication to seagulls in the hope you can make a video of the birds exploding? Stage anti-gay protests at military funerals while running "one of those cults where the leader preaches strict obedience to the gospels in order for him to have sex with everyone," in this case young girls? Serge has plans for you -- in this book Florida insects play supporting roles, from screw worm flies to chizzywinks -- and those plans have bad, bad endings.
Meanwhile, some chapters swerve away from Serge to tell the story of Chris, a teenage girl in the football-crazy town of Pahokee on the lake's southeast shore. Her only ambition in life is to play for her high school's football team. In other chapters, a treasure hunter called Captain Crack Nasty ("You don't want to know where the nickname came from," Dorsey writes.) poaches wrecked vessels, bullies children and worse.
All those plot lines will come together at the Muck Bowl, the legendary annual football game between teams from Pahokee and nearby Belle Glade, poverty-plagued towns that produce an astonishing number of pro players.
Serge will accomplish a heroic rescue, and he'll tidy up a few other loose ends before he and Coleman hop in their gold Plymouth Satellite and speed out of town -- until the next road trip.