Serge rides again in Tim Dorsey’s ‘The Maltese Iguana’

Occasionally fatal Floridaphile Serge Storms makes his own adventures even amid the pandemic.
Tim Dorsey's new book is "The Maltese Iguana."
Tim Dorsey's new book is "The Maltese Iguana." [ William Morrow ]
Published Mar. 2

As Tim Dorsey’s 26th novel begins, after a prologue in which someone in a bunny suit beats up a man in front of a South Beach nightclub and it goes viral, Serge Storms is thinking about hitting the road again.

Serge and his self-medicating pal Coleman have already spent a year living in Pelican Bay, a condo on Islamorada, where Coleman has refined a daily schedule for getting buzzed and Serge has become obsessed with housecleaning (although his dusting methods involve a repurposed sex toy).

But fans of Dorsey’s novels will know that Serge, an enthusiastic Floridaphile and occasional murderer, is a rambling man. Just as he’s explaining to Coleman that their lease is about to end and he wants to get back on the road, they switch on the TV news and hear: “Our top story tonight. The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta has just announced....”

The pandemic! Serge and Coleman make a dash to the local supermarket, where rudeness in the parking lot escalates to full-on battle in the toilet paper aisle. You know it’s bad when the most reasonable people in the room are Serge and Coleman. Then they hunker down into “monthslong party planning” and ordering stuff online.

As the pandemic goes on, Serge has to break up with his girlfriend because she won’t wear a mask; Serge prefers a space helmet but insists on some kind of protection. And his fondness for voice-activated assistants will eventually lead to a shocking brawl between Siri and Alexa. But Dorsey skips through the lockdown pretty quickly — even Serge can only get into so much trouble stuck in a condo.

When the coast is relatively clear, Serge emerges by conducting groups of his neighbors on what he calls Serge’s Florida Keys Underbelly Spy Tours. They become so popular he has to move up from a rented shuttle van to a school bus — who knew the Keys were so rich in the history of espionage? Well, Serge, that’s who.

Spying isn’t just history, either. One of the book’s several subplots involves the turf wars between different cells of U.S. intelligence agencies, as well as the escapades of some of the private security firms that form a large and thriving part of Miami’s economy.

One link among those entities is a woman named Debbie, whose small stature and fondness for cowgirl outfits suggest a childishness belied by her ease with a submachine gun.

Another link is Yandy, a young police officer in Honduras who is famous in his village for having publicly turned down a bribe, demonstrating a sense of integrity that will put him in serious danger, and eventually in a bunny suit on South Beach.

Then there’s Serge’s friend Reevis, a newspaper reporter who’s covering an interesting story about the Florida National Guard. Instead of training at a U.S. military base, they’re training in Honduras. It would be illegal for them to help train the Honduran army, so, as Reevis explains to his editor, “Their official story is that they aren’t training the Hondurans; they’re standing next to Hondurans training themselves.”

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If you’re a Dorsey fan, you can guess that all these plot lines will eventually come together in a smoking, explosive, cinematic ending — and “The Maltese Iguana” does not disappoint.

The reptile of the title, by the way, an homage to Dashiell Hammett’s iconic Maltese falcon, is not a mysterious, sought-after object but a sculpture of an iguana that’s been Gorilla-Glued to a bong, purchased by one of Serge and Coleman’s condo neighbors. After Coleman gives lessons on its use, the bong becomes a favorite of the residents — but that iguana has a backstory that might include a curse.

One notable thing about “The Maltese Iguana” is that, for a book about Serge, it has a surprisingly low body count. But there is that hacker who tries to hijack the utility systems at Pelican Bay with ransomware, endangering the lives of some of its older residents with medical conditions. We’ll find out that you can buy an incredible quantity of pingpong balls at big-box discount stores — and that pingpong balls are “insanely flammable.” Inspired by an old bit on “Captain Kangaroo,” Serge puts them to use.

The Maltese Iguana cover
The Maltese Iguana cover [ William Morrow ]

The Maltese Iguana

By Tim Dorsey

William Morrow, 336 pages, $30