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Review: Tim Dorsey's 'Clownfish Blues' pays dues to Florida-filmed 'Route 66'

Published Jan. 17, 2017

Serge Storms would appreciate it if we would stop referring to him as a serial killer.

Not that he's denying leaving a trail of bizarrely dispatched bodies in his wake over the last couple of decades, mind you. In Clownfish Blues, Tampa writer Tim Dorsey's 20th comic novel chronicling the wild adventures of Serge and his stoner sidekick, Coleman, the manic Florida history buff explains why he'd prefer to be known as a "sequential killer":

"Serial killers are sick, obsessive losers who will never stop until they die or get arrested. Sequential killers, on the other hand, just happen to be the only person around when action is required. ... It's about character, Rog. A sequential killer never intends to kill again — it's just that the cosmic hand of responsibility just sometimes keeps picking the same person. If I don't act, I'm selfishly leaving work for the next person. That's not how I was raised."

Duly noted, Serge.

In addition to Florida history, about which he is a walking Google search, another of Serge's passions is road trips, often built around a theme. This provides Dorsey a handy method for structuring his plots as well as giving Serge a specific niche of Floridiana to expound upon in each book.

In the last one, Coconut Cowboy, our hero was bent on completing the road trip that came to such a sudden and violent end in the 1969 movie Easy Rider — a trip that was meant to lead to Florida.

In Clownfish Blues, he's inspired by the early 1960s television series Route 66. Starring Martin Milner and George Maharis, the series followed their characters on an endless road trip around the United States, with each episode filmed on location in a different place.

Nothing makes Serge happier than knowing that Route 66 filmed much of its final season in Florida. Watching it on video, he rhapsodizes, "Here's Guy Lombardo's famous Port O' Call Resort in Tierra Verde. ... and that's the old Tampa Fronton in 1963. Look what a tiny street Dale Mabry Highway was back then, and check out their rooming house on Bayshore Boulevard, where the guys befriend a jai alai player who's actually a Cuban dissident. The show really hit its intellectual stride when they got to Florida."

Having "borrowed" a vintage silver Corvette for the duration, Serge and Coleman are cruising those Route 66 locations. Along the way, of course, they encounter various nice folks in trouble and in need of help, which brings into play that whole sequential killer thing.

Think you'll get away with swindling an old lady's life savings up in Sopchoppy, in the Panhandle? You'll find yourself in an extreme version, designed by Serge, of the local specialty known as "worm grunting." Think you'll hunt down your ex-wife so you can continue to abuse her? You might find out that those woo-woo crystals they sell in shops in the spiritualist town of Cassadaga have little-known applications.

Serge is always running into old friends, and this time they include his former flame Brook Campanella, now a lawyer in Miami working to protect undocumented immigrants who are the targets of various villains, and intrepid young journalist Reevis Tome. Reevis has an old-school investigative reporter's soul, but thanks to his newspaper's attempts to adjust to the roller-coaster changes in media, he's saddled with an utterly unethical video crew. As his producer tells him, "Sometimes we have to start filming with the conclusion and do the investigating later."

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Tying many of these threads together — along with the Route 66 theme — is a gigantic scheme, with competing teams of criminals, to rip off the Florida lottery. That one ends in a massive Miami shootout so bizarre that an enterprising fellow who captures iguanas and pedals around on his bicycle trying to sell them to restaurants hardly raises an eyebrow when he rides through the middle of it. And Serge as always has to keep an eye on Coleman, who discovers the allure of the "furry" community. Sex in a panda costume, anyone?

It's almost more than a sequential killer can keep up with. Serge does have time for a romance with a Cassadaga psychic called Madam Bovary, a.k.a. Trish, which gives us a hilarious past-life regression interlude for Serge.

But his work is never done.

"They entered the homestead to find a reality-show producer and his cameraman in captivity.

"Trish leaned to Serge. 'Does every room in your life contain people tied to chairs?'

" 'Pretty much.' "

Contact Colette Bancroft at cbancroft@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8435. Follow @colettemb.

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