Serge A. Storms, the serial killer at the center of a series of comic crime novels by Tampa writer Tim Dorsey, lives by a code. His code, probably more amoral than moral, isn't quite like the one practiced by Hemingway's antiheroes or, say, the private detectives in crime novels by John D. MacDonald (a major influence on Dorsey) or Raymond Chandler. • Serge's ethos, instead, is closer to that of the titular murderer in television's Dexter. • It boils down to this: Serge ices only those truly deserving of death. Or, at the very least, Serge's victims are all certifiable jerks, caught in the act of inflicting considerable physical or emotional damage. He puts the hurt on skinheads who beat up the homeless, small-time criminals who attack an innocent, and auto-repair scam artists. • The bloodletting in Nuclear Jellyfish, the 11th book in a decade from the former Tampa Tribune editor and writer, is as inventive — and as sickening — as ever; the author perfected his own brand of unsettling torture porn before that genre began its mercifully brief run slaying the competition at the box office.
Serge and his alcoholic, pot-addled sidekick Coleman, the Abbott and Costello of Florida road-tripping murderers, carry out their mayhem with the help of materials purchased at Home Depot and a long streak of sadistic creativity. No spoilers here, but let's just say that there will be swine, along with the blood. And garden hoses, and a death trap built out of cardboard boxes, air fresheners and the expanding, hardening home improvement product known as Great Stuff.
This time around, the hook for the story is an online travel guide. Serge nabs a job supplying reviews for an established travel Web site, but loses the position because of his insistence on providing inappropriate content — for instance, tips on avoiding certain death and finding sex for hire while vacationing in the Sunshine State.
So instead, the deranged duo, sometimes accompanied by a literary-minded stripper named Story, travel around Florida in a two-tone 1971 AMC Javelin, gathering tasty morsels for Serge's own blog. The killer, like the author, has a lifelong fondness for Floridiana — the state's history, pop culture and kitsch, all of which are intermingled.
So readers are treated to close inspections and/or goofy discussions of places and things associated with Southern rockers Lynyrd Skynyrd, in Jacksonville, and the Allman Brothers, in Daytona Beach; the African-American landscape painters known as the Highwaymen, in Fort Pierce; serial killer Aileen Wuornos, in Port Orange; Dodgertown, in Vero Beach; and John Travolta's mansion and airstrip, near Ocala. There's even a wacky interlude with Claude Kirk, Florida's oldest living governor, in West Palm Beach (not far from where Dorsey grew up).
A lot — probably too much — is crammed into this relentlessly quirky tale, which is interrupted with a long flashback, a la the crime-loving film director Quentin Tarantino. On display, in addition to the gory misadventures of the central odd couple, are a gang of jewel thieves led by lowlife Jellyfish, so named because of a flubbed tattoo, warring bands of coin and stamp collectors, a mystery killer and returning character Mahoney, a police detective who insists on speaking the language of film noir.
Nuclear Jellyfish isn't quite as much fun as its predecessors in the series, perhaps suggesting that Dorsey could be wearying of his cartoonish protagonist; Serge, too, acts as if he's itching for the big sleep. Still, it makes for an often entertaining addition to a collection of books that, in the long run, may well be viewed as valuable if unconventional treasure troves of all things Florida.
Philip Booth writes about books and pop culture for the Times and other publications.