Review

Nuclear Jellyfish

by Tim Dorsey

Tim Dorsey’s creation, the gonzo, anarchic Serge A.
Storms, is a wandering genius, an encyclopedia of arcane and
esoteric facts about the history (make that hystery) of Florida and
of different methods of sending evildoers to their great reward. If
you read comic books, he’s Ambush Bug with a malevolent but
humorous attitude. Or, in a more literary sense, a Hunter Thompson
without the societal gloss and restraint (yes, that’s
right).

A teetotaler, Serge is balanced (if that’s the right word)
by Coleman, his constant companion and substance abuser par
excellence. Serge’s association with Coleman is an
enigma, as Coleman’s constant state of inebriation renders
him unreliable in most situations. It is better to simply accept
the relationship and wait for the laughs as Coleman lets Serge lead
the pair into one life-and-death situation after another. Serge is
also pursued by the hapless but honorable Agent Mahoney, who, in
the words of Serge, blames him for everything, especially the stuff
he’s done. Mahoney, however, seems to enjoy the pursuit more
than the capture, engaging in a catch (or more often, a near-miss)
and release program that occurs throughout each of the books.

Serge eschews the Florida with which most of us are familiar and
instead treads the areas miles off the interstates, looking for
such shrines as the bar that was the site of the events leading to
NUCLEAR JELLYFISH. Serge is nominally employed with one of the
Internet travel services, though his favorite haunts are far off
the beaten path of those usually featured on such websites. He
loves the backstory of Florida, the biker bar that inspired
“Gimme Three Steps” by Lynyrd Skynyrd, the original
baseball training camps (and the hotels where the players stayed),
and the backstory of the Fontainebleau Hotel that is not in the
guidebooks.

NUCLEAR JELLYFISH finds Serge and a reluctant Mahoney attempting
to put Serge’s obsession with Florida to good use via
employment with an Internet travel site. Serge’s naiveté
with respect to his optimism that the travel website will want what
he is selling is almost charming, given that he is less interested
in Disney World and the like than he is in noting the exact bar
stool in Fort Lauderdale’s Wreck Lounge that Robert DeNiro
used during the filming of Analyze This. It is while
visiting the less frequented nooks and crannies of the Sunshine
State that Serge meets the redoubtable Howard, a collector of
Florida souvenirs and gewgaws whose obsession rivals Serge’s
own.

However, when Howard runs afoul of a group of modern-day
desperadoes who have their sights set on robbing trade show
exhibitors, Serge pursues a path of madcap revenge with a reticent
Coleman in tow. This, of course, is all done on an expense account
of stolen credit cards, scammed rooms and the like. Serge
dispenses rough, ingenious and often hilarious vigilante
justice along the way on everyone from the owner of a rip-off
transmission repair shop to the owner of a hotel that never has any
of the coupon special rooms left but has plenty of the
“regular” ones held in reserve. Mahoney is in hot
pursuit, never far but always behind, playing Wile E. Coyote to
Serge’s Road Runner.

The simultaneous blessing and curse of these novels is that,
after a while, they tend to blend into each other for all but the
most loyal and obsessed of Dorsey’s legion of fans. The
result, however, is a hilarious and never-ending trek through
the Florida of the state routes that the interstate has left
behind, the Florida of the 1950s and 1960s, the pre-Disney,
pre-Naples Florida when the primary destination was Miami Beach or
St. Petersburg-Tampa. Route 66 gets all of the nostalgic press, but
old I-95 is worth a tear or two as well. Dorsey has done his
homework, and then some. Reading this book or the other
installments in the series will make the idea of a Florida road
trip well-nigh irresistible, with or without your own Coleman for
company. But don’t miss NUCLEAR JELLYFISH, for it answers the
question: What would Mahoney do if he caught up with Serge?

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 13, 2011

Nuclear Jellyfish
by Tim Dorsey

  • Publication Date: January 1, 2010
  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Paperbacks
  • ISBN-10: 0061432679
  • ISBN-13: 9780061432675