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Rude, riotous Florida

CADILLAC BEACH

By Tim Dorsey

William Morrow, $24.95, 341 pp

Reviewed by COLETTE BANCROFT

In his new novel, Tampa writer Tim Dorsey once again unleashes his pet protagonist, Serge Storms. In Cadillac Beach, Dorsey sics him on Miami, a city that pretty much satirizes itself.

But that never stopped Dorsey, who in past books has taken on plenty of subjects whose idiocies it's almost impossible to exaggerate: Florida politics, tourism, pro sports, organized crime, suburbia.

Serge, who is darn charming for a lethal psychopath, gets to indulge his own pet proclivity in this book, something you might call Floridaphilia. Just as Anglophiles adore everything British, Serge loves everything about Florida, from the tiny fossilized organisms in coquina-rock walls to the smell of automatic arms fire in the morning.

When a partner in crime asks why he's so fond of the state, he says, "Because I need nonstop stimulus. Living here is like being in a permanent studio audience for Cops."

But most of all he loves Florida history, not the officially sunny railroads-and-orange groves version but the twisted underbelly. And in Cadillac Beach the underbelly is personal. Serge is trying to solve the mystery of the reported suicide of his grandfather and namesake, a death tied to the notorious 1964 Star of India jewel theft, a classic of Florida crime.

The book whacks back and forth between the present and 1964 faster than Serge's mood swings. The '64 sections are crowded with famous cameos: comic Jackie Gleason, boxer Cassius Clay (before he became Muhammad Ali), sublime soul singer Sam Cooke, crime bosses Santo Trafficante and Sam Giancana.

In the present, Serge is using his new business, an offbeat tour service ("Homes of the Terrorists!"), to track down his grandfather's old gang. Along the way he kidnaps a pack of condiment salesmen, a mobster and a big-shot sportswriter, as well as getting involved in an internecine squabble between the CIA and the FBI and a replay of the Bay of Pigs invasion.

As one of the disgruntled FBI agents puts it, it's "Miami 1964 all over again, tangled up in a vast, hydra-headed conspiracy that would give Oliver Stone whiplash."

Nice to know some things never change, and that goes for Dorsey's rude, riotous novels.

Colette Bancroft is a Floridian staff writer.

Meet the author

Tim Dorsey will read from and sign Cadillac Beach on Friday starting at 6 p.m. at Inkwood Books, 216 S Armenia Ave., Tampa.

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