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Clownfish Blues


Clownfish Blues

I could subtitle this review of CLOWNFISH BLUES “In Praise of Formula Writing.” One could say with some degree of accuracy that author Tim Dorsey has been writing the same novel over and over since he first conceived of Serge A. Storms, the madcap urban nomad who travels up, down, across and over the great state of Florida. One could also say with total and unadulterated accuracy that Dorsey has done so without actually repeating himself. He has achieved this apparent contradiction by doing one big thing and many little things well in each and every installment.

Serge has not appreciably evolved over the course of 20 novels; Dorsey completed his character right from the start and thankfully has stuck with that template. The many little things the author does well? The mayhem that permeates every book; Serge’s ability to come up with new and inventive ways to dispatch the rude, unruly, greedy and criminal who cross his path; Serge’s relationship with his best friend and fellow traveler, the eternally toasted Coleman; the humor, dark and otherwise; and Dorsey’s meticulously collected and carefully researched Florida trivia, which he delivers in new and heaping batches every year.

Actually, make the latter the second big thing he does well. One could (and should) read the Storm books for the trivia alone. I keep committing myself to going back over the books that comprise the series and pulling each and every nugget from them that I can find, with the aim of someday doing an extended Serge pilgrimage that covers the state. Maybe someday. Think of Dorsey as a master chef who uses the same ingredients to serve up the same dish, yet makes it taste differently from what has come before. It’s a balancing act that he has mastered over the course of two decades.

"Think of Dorsey as a master chef who uses the same ingredients to serve up the same dish, yet makes it taste differently from what has come before. It’s a balancing act that he has mastered over the course of two decades."

The newly published CLOWNFISH BLUES is more of the same, which is a good thing, a wonderful thing, actually. Start with the Prologue, which is basically a (mostly) benevolent Hieronymus Bosch triptych and includes everything: attorneys who are shadier than their clients (and some upright lawyers, too), Lotto fever, Serge and Coleman working retail, and a murder. You get your money’s worth within the book’s first few pages, when Dorsey is just getting warmed up. Oh, there are a bunch of laughs thrown in as well, which will have you howling and pounding the table, yelling “YES! YES!” and “OH NO!”, occasionally about the same sentence.

The element that puts Serge and Coleman behind the wheel and on the road in CLOWNFISH BLUES is “Route 66,” the 1960s television show that, in retrospect, featured a benevolent and straight-arrow version of Serge and Coleman on the legendary U.S. highway, quietly helping people they encountered and righting wrongs in, shall we say, a more conventional way than the protagonists of Dorsey’s long-running series. Coleman and Serge may be the spiritual descendants of Tod Stiles and Buz Murdock (later to be replaced by Lincoln Case), as well as the offspring no one wants to talk about (or save a seat at the table for) during Thanksgiving dinner. But the lineage cannot be denied, and Serge finds another link between himself and Coleman and the legendary TV series, which gets them crisscrossing the state and inadvertently getting tied up in a lottery corruption scheme in the process.

This puts our guys at odds with everyone from money launderers for drug cartels to crooked shopkeepers and even more crooked investors. Of course, it also puts that aggregation of folks --- who work against each other as much as with each other --- at odds with Serge and Col...well, with Serge, anyway. Coleman, as always, is along for the ride and the substances, even as he manages to contribute positively when the chips are down, even if it’s by accident. If you’re new to the series and wondering who to bet on, longtime readers will tell you: Bet on Serge and Coleman, as well as the unlikely, if very welcome, allies they acquire along the way.

After reading CLOWNFISH BLUES, you will never again stand in line at a convenience store checkout counter while a misguided soul buys $20 worth of multi-state lottery tickets or plays four sad numbers on the state lottery --- backed, boxed and straight --- without wishing to channel Serge by explaining to the poor gambler the error of his or her ways. You also will learn all you need to know about something called “worm grunting” (it’s not as bad as it sounds) and a town that actually has a festival dedicated to it, as well as a bunch of other things about Florida, rustic cooking, and just about everything else. Of utmost importance, though, is that you will be mightily entertained.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 27, 2017

Clownfish Blues
by Tim Dorsey

  • Publication Date: January 2, 2018
  • Genres: Fiction, Humor, Mystery
  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
  • ISBN-10: 006242923X
  • ISBN-13: 9780062429230