Frozen crocodiles, cash and cocaine

What is it about Florida that turns the average newspaperman into a superhero of the supermarket paperback aisle?

One minute a guy’s covering the zoning beat in East Palatka and the next minute he’s got four million loyal readers who can’t wait for his next paperback tale of cocaine cowboys, misunderstood manatees and terrified tourists who probably should have vacationed in Ohio.

Authors Carl Hiaasen, Dave Barry and Christopher Moore were all Florida news dogs before they turned their talents to carefully chronicling the worst and weirdest of humankind in book form.

The newest kid on the block is longtime Tampa Tribune reporter and editor Tim Dorsey, whose novel “Florida Road Kill” should earn him a coveted spot in the supermarket paperback hall of fame.

“Florida Road Kill” (2000, Harpertorch, New York, N.Y., $6.99, 370 Pages) has everything that discriminating supermarket paperback readers have come to expect from Florida crime novels: drug dealers, dead guys, frozen crocodiles, crooked politicians and lots of people with automatic weapons.

Dorsey gets right down to business, deftly weaving a half-dozen plots and subplots into a madcap Floridian fandango of guns, greed, chainsaws and death. There are four people and a tortoise murdered in the first 20 pages alone.

The tale revolves (rather loosely) around two wacky felons, Serge and Coleman, their cocaine-snorting, lap-dancing sidekick, Sharon, and an alcoholic, seven-fingered orthodontist with a suitcase containing roughly $5 million. They’re all about to collide with two high school buddies who have been not catching fish together for 20 years and the world’s smallest cocaine cartel.

(You, er, followed all that, right? Because now it begins to get a little complicated…)

The aforementioned orthodontist, one George Veale III, wasn’t always seven-fingered. He once had ten fingers and used them for high-priced dentistry and to occasionally fire a black powder cannon inside his living room during moments of celebratory excess.

The cannon, it should be noted, didn’t claim Veale’s missing digits. They were severed after he foolishly told Serge and Coleman that his hands were insured for $5 million.

The two wily criminals promptly entered into a one-sided conspiracy with Veale to defraud his insurance company by removing three of the befuddled orthodontist’s fingers with a chainsaw during a painstakingly planned landscaping accident.

Although Veale doesn’t exactly remember joining forces with Serge and Coleman for the insurance rip-off, he graciously accepts the $5 million and promptly flees his two non-partners.

This scenario is complicated by the fact that the insurance company isn’t on very secure financial footing and the money paid out for Veale’s claim actually belongs to the world’s 68th largest cocaine cartel.

The insurance company wants its money back. The drug dealers want their money back. And, yes, Serge and Coleman still want a piece of the action.

Toss in a Barbie doll-eating serial killer, Malley the Dancing Malathion Bear and an unexpected stampede of Hemingway look-alikes and you’ve got one helluva supermarket paperback, amigos..

Originally published August 13, 2000

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