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Florida’s own Serge Storms dives into the meaning of life in ‘Tropic of Stupid’

Tim Dorsey’s 24th novel about the history buff and occasional killer involves DNA genealogy links, unscrupulous lawyers, a legendary baseball player and more.
Tim Dorsey's 24th Serge Storms book is "Tropic of Stupid."
Tim Dorsey's 24th Serge Storms book is "Tropic of Stupid." [ Janine Dorsey ]
Published Jan. 28, 2021|Updated Jan. 28, 2021

Life is changing for Serge Storms. In Tropic of Stupid, Tim Dorsey’s 24th comic crime novel featuring him, Serge is so busy searching for filming locations from Sea Hunt, his own family ties and the meaning of life that he hardly kills anyone.

Not that there’s any shortage these days of the sort of predatory types Serge is inclined to remove from the gene pool. As his many fans know, Serge’s two vocations are his passionate pursuit of Florida history and his imaginative murders of the kinds of people many of us wish we could knock off.

In this book he’s focused on those who exploit the elderly, from goons who grab older customers’ wallets in convenience stores to slimeballs who scam snowbirds with fake rental ads online. And he still dispatches them with his usual creativity, using methods ranging from outdated electrical wiring to the storied Leephus Spaceball pitch.

Serge learns how to execute the latter thanks to an encounter with former Red Sox pitcher Bill “Spaceman” Lee, whom Serge and his perpetually intoxicated pal Coleman run into when, in a meta moment, Dorsey sends them to Sanibel to visit another Florida crime fiction writer, Randy Wayne White, who’s a close friend of Lee, said to be the inspiration for White’s fictional character Tomlinson. Are you following this? Or feeling a little like Coleman?

Related: Watch an interview with Tim Dorsey.

The Sanibel stop is just one on this book’s road trip around Florida, motivated mainly by Serge’s enthusiasm for researching his family tree. He’s sent his saliva in to one of those DNA analysis companies and is now intent on tracking down details about several distant cousins named in his results. There’s also an intriguing blank space in the genealogy that suggests there might be — are you sitting down? — a serial killer in the family.

Dorsey breaks away from Serge’s quests to weave in seemingly unrelated stories. One takes place decades ago as a young boy, Bobby, has his life changed by a priest — in a good way! Really! Another, in the present, involves an extremely successful, extremely skeevy law firm, and yet another follows Heather, a determined Florida Department of Law Enforcement agent, in her search for (surprise!) a serial killer. How will they all come together? Like Serge, Dorsey always knows where he’s going.

When Serge isn’t driving and giving Coleman (and the reader) mini lessons on Florida arcana, he’s indulging another passion, for snorkeling and scuba diving, at his “home away from home,” the Looe Key Reef Resort. (Former Tampa Tribune staffer and longtime Tampa resident Dorsey has spent a lot of time in the Keys lately, and so does Serge.)

The diving excursions, which are described in such loving detail you’ll want to speed down to the Keys and strap on a tank yourself, tie in to Serge’s spiritual quest. His search for meaning ping-pongs from the Sermon on the Mount to an existential question to an electronic device (”Alexa, who is Serge Storms?”) to those exhilarating dives.

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The dives also give Dorsey the opportunity to deploy a corollary of the literary concept called Chekhov’s Gun. It’s based on the great Russian playwright’s advice: “If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired.”

Instead of a pistol, Dorsey gives us Sea Hunt, the late 1950s adventure TV series starring Lloyd Bridges as a scuba diver, some of which was filmed in Florida. (Serge and Coleman visit one of those locations in Tarpon Springs.) If you make fun of all the underwater fight scenes in Sea Hunt in an early chapter, well....

Tropic of Stupid

By Tim Dorsey

William Morrow, 368 pages, $27.99

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