Serge A. Storms is on the prowl again in Florida, searching for the American Dream.
“That’s my new mission in life,” he tells Coleman, his stoner sidekick. “To find out where it went.”
Whether he finds it or not is the question posed in Tampa-based author Tim Dorsey’s 19th novel, “Coconut Cowboy” (Morrow; hardback; $25.99; 324 pages). Dorsey sends Storms and Coleman on an “Easy Rider”-type motorcycle ride through Florida’s small towns, and the cheeky historian-moralist-serial killer (Dorsey prefers to call Storms a “sequential killer”) brings his unique brand of justice to a small Central Florida town called Wobbly.
During this Product 19 effort (I just had to throw in an old cereal reference to balance off the serial killer), Storms also dispatches one roughneck who uses road rage to terrorize a mother of two, and takes down a haughty customer at a fast food restaurant.
Storms’ methods of um, disposal, are unique, to say the least.
Storms also turns the tables on the corrupt officials in Wobbly, who annexed a slice of the nearby interstate to maximize profits with a speed trap and turned a sinkhole into a tourist spot for divers.
“We’ve got a nice little town,” says Vernon, who not only is the mayor of Wobbly, but also the police chief and judge. “We don’t like trouble.”
The town was founded in 1854 by Thaddeus “Wobbly” Horsepence, but it wasn’t incorporated until 2012.
“Folks around here don’t like to be rushed,” Vernon says.
At this point, you’re probably wondering what “Coconut Cowboy” has to do with sports books. Good point. But here’s the link: Storms waxes poetic about lawn darts early in the book, and when Dorsey was a night metro editor at The Tampa Tribune, I combined with my desk supervisor in the sports department to buy a nice chunk of his baseball card collection back in the mid-1990s.
There’s my connection, and I’m sticking with it.
On the day “Coconut Cowboy” was released, Dorsey received the John D. MacDonald Award for Excellence in Florida Fiction, the seventh winner of the award. He joins Elmore Leonard (1992), Paul Levine (1994), James W. Hall (1996), Charles Willeford (1999), Randy Wayne White (2002) and Stuart Kaminsky (2006). A TV series based on his first novel, “Florida Roadkill” (published in 1999), is also in the works.
Dorsey’s writing can be characterized as a combination of Gloria Jahoda (“Florida: A Bicentennial Celebration,” “River of the Golden Ibis”), Eliot Kleinberg (“Historical Traveler’s Guide to Florida,” “Weird Florida”) and Jeff Klinkenberg (“Alligators in B-Flat,” “Seasons of Real Florida”). History on helium.
Dorsey’s plots are pretty much the same: an unsuspecting, innocent and usually befuddle couple finds itself in the crosshairs of a Florida crime operation. It takes some ingenuity on Storms’ part to rescue them, but it’s a delicious twist.
Peter and Marie Pugliese have moved from New York to Wobbly. Peter is a geologist and Mary is a traveling trial expert specializing in shoes. The politicians in Wobbly have gotten wind of Peter’s expertise and want to use him to pad their wallets.
In the meantime, Dorsey introduces the reader to character like Slow and Slower, pig races on Founders Day, rival neighborhood watch groups that have en masse staredowns, the old Mudcrutch Farm (Tom Petty fans will get the reference), the old Dub’s nightclub in Gainesville, sinkholes, and a college kid named Matt, who decides to track down Storms so he can write his thesis that contends Florida’s bizarre behavior is “the spear tip of coming effects from the national sea change.”
The reader also finds out why Storms has childhood memories of coconuts, and how all these incongruous vignettes are neatly tied up at the end in another bizarre finish. Serge gets away with murder, the innocent couple has a happy ending, and Coleman is — well, Coleman.
It’s funny, laugh-out-loud reading. Don’t dive into this book looking for serious, deep plot changes. Dorsey writes in a scattershot manner that is a perfect fit for Serge Storms’ adventures. Both of them are all over the place.
As long as weird things keep happening in Florida, Dorsey will have a vast pool to draw from. “Coconut Cowboy” is the next step in that quirky progression, and once again, Dorsey delivers another funny, entertaining work.