No person—alive or fictional—loves Florida more than Serge Storms. His latest car is a 1978 Pontiac Trans-Am, with the eagle wings framing the hood scoop converted into Florida shapes.
As much as Serge loves Florida, though, he hates those who prey on the state’s innocent, and Serge is the last person you want as your enemy. Despite his presence, there are plenty of evil-doers out there, taking advantage of people’s naiveté. One brazen robbery in “Tiger Shrimp Tango” ends up with an entire floor’s worth of hotel guests naked in the parking lot, sprayed down with fire extinguisher foam. (That crime, to be honest, was just brilliant, as was Serge’s revenge)
Once more, Serge is teamed with his always-partying sidekick, Coleman. Coleman is his own kind of genius—who else makes a bong out of one of those little aquarium treasure chests—but he’s the perfect assistant for Serge, especially as a patient target of Serge’s manic Florida screeds.
This time around, the duo face an organized group of various con-men, con-women, thieves, burglars, grifters, etc, a sort of criminal Olympics team (forgive me, but I just imagined an insurance scam artist standing atop the platform, with a gold medal around his neck and his hand over his cold heart, beaming proudly as Judas Priest’s “Breakin’ the Law” blasts through the arena).
These folks are at the top of their respective dark arts, but there’s more to it than that. They take a perverse, competitive glee in their performance, and they celebrate hard when the team works together to pull-off a big heist.
One of my favorite things about author Tim Dorsey’s Serge Storms novels is that rarely does Serge sit down and plot how he will dispatch somebody. He’s too busy with his peripatetic ramblings to lay pen to paper. He always manages to find the bad folks, and dispense upon them that unique Serge Storms brand of justice. The man’s a lunatic/genius, with an admirable creative bent. In an earlier novel, he eliminated a sadistic Little League coach by hooking a Water Wiggle to a pressure washer. Genius. Pure, twisted, fresh-squeezed genius. Best of all, no matter how many novels Dorsey writes, Serge never repeats himself. To him, it would seem ineloquent.
The stakes are high in “Tiger Shrimp Tango,” so Serge enlists the aid of former Florida Department of Law Enforcement Inspector Mahoney, who has become a private investigator. One reason he was drummed out of the FDLE is that he can’t stop talking in 1940’s pulp detective novel slang. As time goes by, Mahoney gets progressively less intelligible, and more entertaining. Seriously, things like answering the phone, “Mahoney. Flap gums” had me cracking up.
There is always a lot of cracking-up with one of Dorsey’s novels, and “Tiger Shrimp Tango” certainly continues that streak. The key, of course, is Serge himself. His Floridian pride and exuberant vigilantism make him a perfect lead. He’s a genius, but a completely screwy one. Coleman drinks and smokes weed throughout the whole book—the whole series, really—but he complements Serge wonderfully. Mahoney adds another layer of comic relief.
Before becoming a successful novelist, Tim Dorsey was a writer for the Tampa Tribune. As befits his newspaper background, many of the scams he captures in “Tiger Shrimp Tango” are real. As a native Floridian, I’ve always been proud that we have such groundbreaking scumbags. (That, and the Florida State Fair always debuting the fair circuit’s latest fried food. I lost track after fried Pepsi—seriously, there was fried Pepsi).
Joking aside, people—most of them elderly and on fixed incomes—fall for these scams. Part of the appeal Serge’s adventures hold for me is that he gets symbolic justice for those poor souls I read about in the paper.
Almost as rewarding is when Dorsey mocks certain fashionable trends. “Ridiculous” isn’t a strong-enough adjective to describe some of what passes for hip in South Beach.
Unlike several novels in the series, this one doesn’t spotlight one particular victim (save for a pretty daughter of one). This gives the plot a more scattershot feel than those where Serge focuses on one person or family, but it’s not a fatal flaw. If you are a fan of the series, 2014 will dawn with a new Serge Storms novel; you’ll read it, and you’ll laugh.
“Tiger Shrimp Tango” sticks with Tim Dorsey’s perfect recipe: take lunatic Floridaphile/serial killer Serge, blend in perma-buzzed Coleman, add a dash of Mahoney for additional flavor; pour the mixture over some deserving villains, bake in the Florida sun for 300 pages or so, and you have another smart, face-achingly funny read.