Torpedo Juice by Tim Dorsey

Broadcast December 2005

Tim Dorsey was a reporter for the Tampa Tribune for a dozen years before he started finding success as a novelist, writing a series of strange and wonderfully funny novels based on the adventures of an amped-up crusading-for-justice serial killer named Serge Storms.

I can already tell I’ve lost some of you out there. You might remember seeing in your local bookstore one or two of Dorsey’s novels, with their bright covers, eye-catching graphics, and oddly compelling titles: Cadillac Beach, Stingray Shuffle, Triggerfish Twist, Orange Crush, Hammerhead Ranch Motel, and Florida Roadkill. Throughout them all, the stories were sordid, the plots twisted, the characters delightfully eccentric, and Serge Storms tore through them all, talking a mile-a-minute and killing the bad guys with his own colorful, amusing angel-of-death panache.

Dorsey’s seventh novel, Torpedo Juice, taken from the name of a drink: one part grain alcohol, three parts Red Bull. This time around, Serge and his drugged out friend Coleman find themselves in the Florida Keys. Serge is trying to reinvent himself, find a new walk of life, maybe a wife, maybe even settle down. But drug dealers, greedy developers, a couple of sex-starved librarians, and a religious cult that takes Serge as its savior all make his of the simple life rather hard to achieve. Without giving away much of the plot, please believe that Torpedo Juice is hilarious and bizarre from cover to cover, with a nifty ending that resolves the convoluted plot like a magic trick.

In each of his books, writer Dorsey, who is extremely fond of his home state, picks some part of Florida he would like to write about, starts doing his research, and soon enough a story beings to form around Serge in his new setting. Maybe it’s the old reporter in Dorsey that makes his novels, as outrageous as they are, deeply rooted in the weirdness that is life in Florida. In this sense, although I hate to make the comparison, he has a kindred spirit in Carl Hiaasen. Dorsey also shares Hiaasen’s outrage at the greed and corruption of those who would exploit Florida for their own power and profit.

Listen to the following passage describing the environment in southern Dade County:

“Below Miami, you’re on your own. Dixie Highway slants across a hot, dusty wasteland of Max Mad predators, where the famous roadside Coral Castle is now ringed with razor wire, and copulating dogs tumble past the doors of Cash Advance Nation. Above all this, another world away, are the elevated lanes of the Florida Turnpike. [A car] raced south just before dawn until the lanes ended and twisted their way down to merge with US 1. Welcome to Florida City, a franchised boomtown decided by automatic counters and satellite imagery. Mobile, Exxon, Wendy’s, Denny’s, Baskin-Robbins and a continuous row of chain motel signs indicating the cornerstones of the white race are free breakfast and AARP rates.”

Dorsey’s work has an anger and a recklessness that goes beyond Hiaasen’s, and at times readers may find themselves in the midst of passages that seem just this side of being completely out of control. At those times, Dorsey takes the reader places that only the likes of Hunter S. Thompson can go. Dorsey may be, in fact, too strong stuff for some people. Just like the drink – one part grain alcohol, three parts Red Bull. But once you try a sip, you might find you want the whole drink. And then another round, and then another.

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