Hearing Voices: Cadillac Beach

It's all in your head.If you had looked in on me at my chores this past week you might have wondered why every so often I would lay aside my tools, toss back my head, and with arms akimbo let out with a hearty “Haw! Haw! Haw!” Be not afraid, for the explanation is simple: Dull labor was lightened these past few days by iPodding an audiobook: Cadillac Beach by Florida novelmaker, Tim Dorsey.

The novel is a comic one — hence the above mentioned “Haw! Haw! Haw!” You may find it, along with others by Mr. Dorsey, shelved with the mystery and thriller titles at your local bookbin, because it features a diamond theft, a number of criminal gangs, the CIA, the FBI, much gunplay and a rapid attrition of minor characters. But Cadillac Beach, while borrowing the props from crime fiction, isn’t really that. All the Florida settings — the Foutainbleu Hotel, DisneyWorld — and all the minor characters — barhopping conventioneers, feuding gang bosses, Cuban revolutionaries — exist only to be demolished by the insane protagonist, Serge Storms, as he single-mindedly pursues…

…well, what does it matter what he is pursuing? By “insane” I don’t mean “eccentric,” I mean “completely nuts”; Serge is a certifiable, frequently institutionalized, badly in need of medication, schizo, bipolar monomaniacal screwball. His “master plan” which drags us screaming through the course of the novel, is a seemingly random checklist which includes “embarrassing Castro,” locating the missing gems from a 1964 diamond heist, discovering the truth about the supposed “suicide” of his beloved (also insane) grandfather Sergio, assassinating the head of the local Mafia family, operating a tour company (specializing in visits to Miami’s seamy underside), cajoling Katie Couric to relocate the Today Show to Florida, and so on, and so on; all the while leaving destruction and death in his wake.

One nice gag: Serge is able to drive his increasingly bullet-riddled tour limo around Miami without drawing attention by the expedient of covering the actual bullet holes with those bullet hole decals sold at car parts store. “They’re not marketing these things right,” says Serge.

Serge, naturally, achieves all his goals, in whole or in part, because that’s what happens in a comic novel. Drunks, children and fictional madmen all receive special divine protection. Safes may fall from the sky and flatten people — and in Cadillac Beach a safe does fall on someone — but they won’t fall on the star lunatic. A plot-scorning series of six or seven progressively absurd surprise endings land Serge on his feet, healthy (physically), beatifically happy, brimmng with chirpy enthusiasm, and raring to continue the series of novels (click this parenthetical aside for the full list) of which he is the highly unstable propellant.

Cadillac Beach by Tim Dorsey
(HarperTorch, Mass Market Paperback, 384 hyperactive pages)

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