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Review: Hurricane Punch, by Tim Dorsey

#68: Hurricane Punch by Tim Dorsey:

A few miles above Venice, the Tamiami Trail takes a pair of jogs as it swings past Marina Jack's and the bridge to Bird Key, home of lifestyle pace-car and AC/DC front man Brian Johnson.


Synopsis: Serial killer/Florida historian Serge A. Storms and his stoner buddy Coleman take up hurricane-chasing, while another serial killer does his thing. Also along for the ride: a sleazy media empire, the Party Parrot and an unhinged sometimes-FBI agent.



I chose this book for a group read over at oddlittlecat and I'm actually pretty surprised that no one hated it. Dorsey's an author you either really love or pretty much back away slowly from. The pace is frenetic, and the POV meanders all over the place.

On the one hand, there's Serge and Coleman, who are crawling all over Florida looking for hurricanes and Serge is killing off people who break the social code (price gougers, hip-hop rednecks, reality tv show producers). There's a second serial killer on the loose who is less discriminating and manages to eerily copy Serge's crimes at the very time he's committing them. And that's attracting all kinds of coverage from a sleazy media empire looking to boost their ratings by any means possible. On um, a fourth hand, Serge is seeing a psychiatrist about his mid-life crisis while unbeknownst to him, his archnemesis Mahoney and the reporter assigned to cover his spree are also seeing psychiatrists in the same building.

There's also a feeding tube controversy, prescription pill fraud, a Rolling Stones theme and the Party Parrot, who keeps getting tossed into the hurricanes on the grounds that inappropriate behavior is better than a reality show.

Verily, there's a lot going on.

I'm a huge Dorsey fan, but I like having to keep up with how fast and how packed the pace is. I also find him incredibly hilarious and have three full pages of quotes from this book stashed in one of my quote journals. I could do an entry just on the quotes alone.

But part of liking his books is that I find Serge's character refreshing; sure he's a serial killer, but he's a choosy one (a la Dexter) and quite a bit of his own dilemmas come from whether or not to take his meds.

The meds stop him from killing people sure, but they also suck all the color out of his world. Or as he puts it, "...Mental illness is like cholesterol. There's the good kind and the bad. Without the good kind, less flavor to life."

Or a much better summary, from Hammerhead Ranch Motel:

The problem was that the medication dimmed his wattage. Serge would either hide the pills in his mouth or throw them up later. He didn't want anything messing with his gray matter; he liked the hum inside his head too much--the free commerce of thoughts and images streaming back and forth, occasional bursts of genius flashing inside his skull like heat lightning over Tampa Bay on a warm August evening.


It's a portrayal of mental illness that's both sympathetic and complicated. You're not supposed to empathize with the serial killer or root for him or even like him. But in contrast with Dexter, the other Florida serial killer with a conscience, Serge doesn't seem to need anyone to like him, or care. He's made perfectly happy by the contents of his own head.

Coleman used to be a very neutral character to me, as he's just a stereotypical stoner bud, but you get more of his backstory in Torpedo Juice, and after I read that, I felt much more sympathetic toward him.

I'm also a serious history dork, so I not only love all the Florida factoids, but I can well imagine going on journeys around the country just to see historical landmarks and cross them off some mythic list.

It was difficult to choose one Dorsey book to represent the entire series. They don't really go in order, because characters who die in one book reappear in later books, which either makes a lie of the ordering, highlights Serge as an unreliable narrator or warps the fabric of time. Frankly, I'm okay with any of those answers.

There are certainly books in the series that have a less rapid-fire pace to them--Florida Roadkill and Hammerhead Ranch for two--and ones that have less plot strands to juggle (Orange Crush, Triggerfish Twist) but to some degree, this book represents Dorsey at the pinnacle of his madness, throwing all these balls in the air and to be honest, only making a cursory attempt to keep track of where they land. little_tristan and I disagree on how well the identity of the copycat serial killer works, but we both agree the psychiatrist subplot was totally over the top. Nonetheless, for the amount of activity going on in the book, that it didn't make anyone's Worst of 2010 is kind of an accomplishment.
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