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Hail, Storms! Sociopath's New Adventure Is A Triumph

"Nuclear Jellyfish," by Tim Dorsey (William Morrow, $26) Welcome back, Serge! Florida's wackiest fictional vigilante sociopath, Serge A. Storms, has returned, fully caffeinated and obsessed by a fresh new gripe: "The Internet was supposed to become the ultimate democratic forum. It did: Now everyone can be a porn star." As in previous episodes involving the travels and adventures of Serge (titles include "Atomic Lobster," "Stingray Shuffle" and "The Big Bamboo"), our misfit hero has a plan: "So I guess I should be thankful for the Internet. Especially since my newly launched travel advisory service demands the latest cutting-edge communication technology! Who better to guide you around my fine state?"
Who better indeed? Because although he has made a lifetime habit of creatively disposing of unpleasant people (within the first few chapters, two homeless-bashing thugs meet a gruesome - if well-earned - end that involves duct tape and a garden hose; later, Serge uses both pigs and expanding foam to rebalance the scales of justice), Serge's greatest passion is for all things Sunshine Stately, preferably from Florida's more picturesque past. To that end, Serge seeks out the sorts of locations tourists should want to see, such as the hotel where the Dodgers stay in Vero Beach or the actual biker-bar setting for Lynyrd Skynyrd's rock classic "Gimme Three Steps" since, contrary to popular belief, the band originated in Jacksonville. He posts that information on his own renegade travel site along with the kind of tips that make chambers of commerce wince: "Today's nuggets: avoiding transmission rip-offs and the best place to spot John Travolta." Another fine piece of advice: "... like leaving extra space at dark intersections so you don't get boxed in by car-jackers and dismembered behind a time-share booth." Because this is Serge Storms, the plot unfolds rapidly in seemingly random directions within a nonlinear time frame: Someone seems to be gunning for Serge, there's a gang of criminals preying on jewel couriers across the state, Serge's personality may be disintegrating (he's not just talking to himself, he's saying, "I sure hope I'm not planning a murder-suicide"), and agent Mahoney -- just done with yet another involuntary mental commitment - is hot on the trail. Accompanied by his perpetually stoned sidekick, Coleman, and a hitchhiking stripper named Story Long, Serge crisscrosses the state in a green-and-orange 1971 AMC Javelin while the various threads weave together. Undeniably, Florida has more than its share of weird news; the state is also the setting for numerous crime novels (John D. MacDonald, Carl Hiaasen, Randy Wayne White, Edna Buchanan, Elmore Leonard, to name just a few authors). In this Florida noir, however, don't expect a lecture about how the state squanders its resources or how the latest wave of drug runners has changed the culture, and don't plan to read the novel in sedate silence. Instead, Serge and Tampa's own Tim Dorsey (Dorsey is a former editor for the Tribune) take readers on a wild ride. There are rapid-fire history lessons about such topics as the Highwaymen artists, the origin of St. Augustine grass and how Amelia Island used to be an independent nation. There is wonderfully silly dialogue, such as: "'Coleman, there are three - and only three - kinds of people in this world: Those who don't know they are damaged and blame others; people who realize they are damaged and blame others; and then there are people like you and me, who wear damage like comfortable pajamas.' Coleman swigged from his pint bottle. "Mine are the ones with the little feet.'" And there will be surprising high-speed twists and turns sure to leave readers reaching for the grab bar. So buckle up and enjoy. Serge insists.

Amy Smith Linton of Tampa is a freelance writer.

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