The big mystery about Tim Dorsey's new novel Gator A-Go-Go is how he got this far in his Florida crime fiction series without a book that has "gator" in its title. • After all, the 12 books by Tampa resident Dorsey are not only set in the Sunshine State but are gleeful celebrations of its most outrageous excesses, weirdnesses, idiocies and perils. And what is more emblematic of that than the prehistoric critters that live in every Florida body of water bigger than a bathtub and chow down on our species just often enough to remind us that we're the new kids here? • No such food-chain memento mori occurs in Gator A-Go-Go. The titular reptile is a dancing neon beast that marks the location of a dive motel in Panama City Beach, the current epicenter of that bacchanalian American fertility ritual known as spring break. • The book does swarm with predators, though they're all of the human variety. Chief among them is Serge Storms, making his 12th appearance as Dorsey's gonzo protagonist. It's dicey to call Serge a hero. He's certainly brilliant and dedicated in his adoration of all things Florida, especially arcana like the exact location (longitude and latitude) of the origins of spring break in 1928. And in Gator A-Go-Go he's an unlikely champion of the relatively innocent, i.e. clueless college students being pursued by hit men through no fault of their own.
But he does have this unnerving tendency to kill people. He's particular about it — I mean, who hasn't had a flash of murderous intent toward the goon who honks his horn like a madman because you pulled over for an emergency vehicle and he's ticked off at being stuck behind you? Serge just follows through, and he's usually darned inventive about it.
He fires up his '73 Dodge Challenger and heads for Panama City Beach because he's making a somewhat idiosyncratic documentary film about spring break. Riding shotgun is his prodigiously stoned pal Coleman, eager to pass his party mojo along to the next generation. As Serge says, "He's been on spring break since 1977."
Always the historian, Serge is interested in the migrations of the phenomenon. "Florida's always had a love-hate relationship with spring break. First a community wants the money and rolls out the red carpet. Then they get rich and weary of hotel damage — 'Yo, students! Thanks for the cash, now scram!' — deploying police harassment. So another city with a lesser economy says, 'Hey kids, why put up with that crap? We'll treat you right.' Then that place prospers and asks, 'Why do we have to put up with this crap? Get 'em out of here!' And so on."
But his academic interest in spring break's "three distinct epochs" is interrupted when he and Coleman meet a bunch of college kids from New England, including young Andy McKenna. The FBI is looking for Andy. So is a quartet of heavily armed men in the employ of a ruthless Miami crime boss known as Madre. Andy isn't sure why all these people are chasing him, but the growing body count is making him too nervous to enjoy the beer bongs and pole-dancing competitions.
Luckily for him, sentimental Serge makes Andy's safety his mission — one that requires, of course, a cross-Florida road trip. Dorsey brings back a number of Serge's old friends and enemies during the ride, notably his up-for-anything lady friends City and Country, the hapless "Accidental Virgin" Johnny Vegas and the four eccentric old ladies known as the G-Unit. Also appearing are the sleazy creator of the Girls Gone Haywire videos, whom Dorsey shamelessly names Rood Lear, and Serge's longtime nemesis-admirer Agent Mahoney, who is holed up in the Rod and Reel Motel on Anna Maria on "indefinite sabbatical."
Between bouts of gunfire, there's plenty of time for Serge to wax philosophical about the Hulk Hogan family, study the uses of bungee rocket rides and demonstrate why one shouldn't accidentally eat half a pan of cannabis-laced brownies.
Like all of Dorsey's books, Gator A-Go-Go is loony, violent, profane and often ridiculous — in short, just like life in Florida, and we might as well laugh at it until the gator bites down.
Colette Bancroft can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8435. She blogs on Critics Circle at blogs. tampabay.com/arts.