Electric Barracuda

  • By Tim Dorsey
  • William Morrow
  • 368 pp.

A pinball chase animates latest “gonzo” tale of a deranged historian ― and serial killer ― in Florida.

For anyone who has never read Tim Dorsey before, reading Electric Barracuda is a bit like jumping into an outdoor pool in the dead of winter. Best-case scenario: The water is pleasantly warm. Worst case: you hope to make it to the pool’s edge before hypothermia sets in. No worries with Barracuda the water’s fine.

Few writers today achieve the heights of gonzo fiction like Dorsey. What is gonzo? Webster’s characterizes this style of writing as freewheeling, outrageous and bizarre. I would add funny as hell. Dorsey’s series about Florida serial killer and mentally deranged historian, Serge Storms, is now in its 12th installment. The story of Electric Barracuda is a chase between Agents Lowe, White and Mahoney on the one hand, and Serge and his sidekick, Coleman, on the other. There’s also a treasure hunt for a fortune allegedly buried by Al Capone, and a dangerous redhead who’s got her own plans for Serge. The book is a fun read, and for Dorsey, fun is what it’s all about. Anecdotes about Florida and its history are a plus for readers who like to learn something about where the story takes place.

The 25-page prologue asks a lot from a reader new to Dorsey. But it succeeds in setting the scene, and gives you what you need to know to plunge into the narrative. Once you dive into the first chapter, the story is fast-paced and funny. Serge takes the reader on a Fugitive Tour, while blogging on his website to the world about the remote parts of Florida. Dorsey’s knowledge and love of the state shine through.

Dorsey’s use of language keeps the action moving, and his descriptions are good. The dialogue is often funny and sharp, as Serge and Coleman pinball from one part of the state to another, with the three agents in hot pursuit. As in previous books, Dorsey places other writers in cameos. So it’s fun to meet a crooked attorney named Brad Meltzer, who is chasing the Capone treasure. Florida writer Randy Wayne White also makes an appearance, sitting at a bar near Serge, who decides White looks too tough to mess with.

While the structure of Barracuda is episodic, Dorsey does build to some nice surprises at the end. You have to marvel at the frenetic pace he manages throughout.  Fans of Dorsey’s previous novels should enjoy this new one.

Thomas Kaufman is an Emmy-winning director/cameraman who also writes mysteries. His DC-based book Drink the Tea won the PWA/St. Martin’s Press Competition for Best First Private Eye Novel.

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