The Sun Goes to Your Head
Cocaine smuggling. Spree killing. Don Johnson impersonators. Ethically questionable taxidermy. Teenage sexaholic pothead fugitives. Welcome to Tim Dorsey’s Florida: a kind of criminal fantasyland where the drugs and liquor flow freely in equal measure, the homicides are always spectacular and hilarious, and the far-fetched, far-flung, and far-out coincidences are so much damn fun that you’ll be cursing your own boring reality by the time your stay is up. It is one hell of a place to visit; and if you’re planning to stick around, the Hammerhead Ranch Motel is the only game in town.
Hammerhead Ranch Motel is the title of Dorsey’s follow up to Florida Roadkill, the book that introduced us to Serge A. Storm, probably the most loveable sociopath fiction has ever known. It’s also the name of the beachside establishment on the Gulf Coast outside of Tampa that serves as the eye of this remarkably over-the-top hurricane of a novel. Serge has a room there; he’s camped out as he searches for the five million dollars in stolen drug money that disappeared at the end of Florida Roadkill. All of Tampa’s criminal community is looking, too, and God save the poor fool who winds up getting into the mix. Many do. The action, needless to say, is relentless.
At first it almost seems that Dorsey is too caught up in his own ability to write amusing little vignettes populated by colorful wackos, as in the beginning of the book when we’re introduced to one after another of his crazies in a series of bizarre, unconnected situations. It almost gets tiring. Then the tide turns, and Dorsey’s absurd-yet-ingenious plot machinations begin to reveal themselves. Half of the people he introduces us to he gleefully bumps off, and the survivors get dug deeper into the framework of the story. As the death toll mounts, with each murder or accident more imaginative and appalling than the last, the remaining players -- a truly wild cast of characters connected in a multitude of ways -- converge on Hammerhead Ranch, with a hurricane charging up the coast, for a denouement of mock-biblical proportions.
The novel does have its flaws. With so many characters, it’s often difficult to remember who’s who (is this the friend of the college student who fell through the roof of the aquarium into the alligator tank, or the guy who was misinformed about having one month to live and has decided to kill an obnoxious talk radio personality?), and not all of them ring true as authentic nutjobs. But most do, and we should forgive Dorsey for his, at times, overly enthusiastic method -- not just because he writes some of the funniest sex scenes ever composed in English, but because, goofy as it is, he has produced an astonishingly entertaining book.
Olli Chanoff is a freelance editor and writer who lives a bicoastal existence.
Barnes & Noble Guide to New Fiction
Fans of Florida Roadkill will welcome this sequel; complete with the original cast of crazies, and introducing a fresh new crop of dopers, dealers, and other assorted dementos.
Some of the most wacky villians and situations since Hiaasen stuck a plastic alligator down a stranger's throat and called it Tourist Season.
Hammerhead Ranch Motel is Dorsey's follow-up to his hilarious debut, Florida Roadkill. It's sweet relief to discover that Dorsey can keep up with himself. God knows nobody else can.
St. Petersburg Times
In Hammerhead Ranch Motel, Dorsey frequently...exhibits both a prodigious talent for dialogue and a delightful sense of the absurd.
Rocky Mountain News
Scathingly funny...An updated verson of It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, World, told by an author who apparently learned his literary skills from Hunter S. Thompson.
New York Times Book Review
Another raucous roadshow in the spirit of Florida Roadkill.
Boca Raton News
Dorsey hit the ball out of the park with his debut novel, Florida Roadkill. Now he has encored with the equally wild, wicked and wonderful Hammerhead Ranch Motel.
It would be easy to lump the 39-year old Dorsey with other authors of Florida sub-genre fiction. Where Dorsey differs from writers such as Carl Hiassen, James Hall and Elmore Leonard is the extent to which Dorsey twists the knife, ever aiming for maximum bloodletting. Those guys fire bullets. Dorsey makes sure his gun is filled with hollow-point.
Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel
Dorsey imbues Hammerhead Ranch Motel with the same wry humor, outlandish characters and raw-edged situations that were the driving force of his 1999 debut novel, Florida Roadkill.
Close on the hyperactive heels of last year's Florida Roadkill, Tampa writer Tim Dorsey has unleashed an equally blistering sequel.
Hammerhead Ranch Motel is violent, vulgar, hysterically funny, and filled with wonderful, unique characters...
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
HWith this followup to Florida Roadkill, Dorsey places himself in the ranks of Laurence Shames and Carl Hiassen as a writer of hilarious, violent farces set in Florida. A loopy energy fills this A-ticket trip among the bridges, sailboats, seedy dives, dysfunctional families and drug deals of Tampa Bay. In the prologue alone, a college student falls through the glass dome of the Florida Aquarium; aged but feisty Mrs. Edna Ploomfield fights a gun battle with a shotgun-toting drug dealer; coitally challenged playboy Johnny Vegas has his Porsche flattened by a truck; and a man in a Santa Claus suit torches a car on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge before jumping into the sea. Later, we meet Lenny, inveterate pothead and sometime 'gator wrestler, whose exploits turn up in the Weekly Mail of the News World; Alabama-bred blonde Ingrid Praline, whose "giant Lolita package gave men hemorrhagic fever"; panicky pilot Bananas Foster; and many more zany characters. After Dorsey introduces a white Chrysler and a metal briefcase with $5 million in it, fans will not be surprised when demented killer Serge A. Storm of Florida Roadkill shows up, kicking off a long parade of crazies, most of whom end up in the motel of the title during a hurricane (and a VCR viewing of Key Largo) in the novel's wild finale. Until then, joke follows joke like a 50-car pileup, in a plot that can feel like a game of 52-pickup; it's as if Dorsey chopped up his narrative into one- and two-page segments, threw them on the floor and published them in the resulting nonorder. The story loops backwards and forward in time: halfway through the book, for example, come the scenes that set up the wild prologue. But Dorsey's temporal convolutions do not impede momentum: instead, they encourage readers to hang on for the ride. And a delightfully giddy ride it is, ending with the promise of more craziness to come. (Aug.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Surge A. Stormes, a psychotic spree killer first introduced in Florida Roadkill (LJ 6/15/99), is back again, still tracking the $5 million in laundered drug money that took him on his first adventure. With his new sidekick, Lenny Lippowicz, a writer known for yellow journalism, Surge traces the money to the owner of the Hammerhead Ranch Motel in Tampa, where he settles in, waiting for the perfect opportunity to claim what he thinks is rightfully his. Off his medication and on a roll, Surge parties freely with local eccentrics, each with a personal agenda ranging from drug addiction to murder, as a hurricane builds force in the Gulf and takes deadly aim at the Tampa area. Twenty ruthless players together in a motel bar as a hurricane rages outside can only lead to an explosive climax. Fans of Florida Roadkill will certainly want this book. Meanwhile, readers take note: Surge is still out there, without the cool five million. Does this presage a second sequel?--Thomas L. Kilpatrick, Southern Illinois Univ., Carbondale Lib. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
Read an Excerpt
Lone headlights appeared in the blackness five miles away.
They were high-beams, illuminating the sea mist through the slashed mangroves and crushed coral down the long, straight causeway toward Miami. The rumble of rubber on tar grew louder and the headlights became brighter until they blinded. The Buick blew by at ninety and kept going, red taillights fading down U.S. 1 toward Key West.
It was quiet and dark again. An island in the middle of the Florida Keys. No streetlights, no light at all. The low pink building on the south side of the street was unremarkable concrete except for the hastily stuccoed bullet holes and the eight-foot cement conch shell on the shoulder of the road, chipped and peeling, holding up a sign: "Rooms $29.95 and up."
No cars in front of the motel; the night manager nodding in the office. The beach was sandy, some broken plastic kiddie toys, an unsafe pier and a scuttled dinghy. The air was still by the road, but around back a steady breeze came off the ocean. Coconut palms rustled and waves rolled in quietly from the Gulf Stream. Parked behind the motel, by the only room with a light on, was a black Mercedes limousine.
Voices and an electrical hum came from the room, number seven. Inside, personal effects covered one of the beds toiletries, carefully rolled socks, newspaper clippings, sunscreen, postcards,snacks, ammunition-meticulously arranged in rows and columns. The hum was from the Magic Fingers bed jiggler that had been hot-wired to run continuously. The voices came from the TV that had been unbolted from its wall mount and now sat on a chair facing into the bathroom, tuned toSportscenter.
In the flickering blue-gray TV light, a figure sat in the bathtub behind an open Miami Herald. Two sets of fingers held the sides of the paper a front-page splash about a drug shoot-out in Key West and a missing five million in cash and smoke rose from behind the paper. An old electric fan sat on the closed toilet lid, blowing into the tub. Something about the Miami Dolphins came on ESPN. The man in the tub folded the paper and put it on the toilet tank. He grabbed the remote control sitting in the soap dish on the shower wall. The slot in the top of the soap dish held a .38 revolver by the snub nose. "Nobody messes with Johnny Rocco," said the man in the tub, and he pressed the volume button.
The bather was tan, tall and lean with violating ice-blue eyes, and his hair was military-short with flecks of gray. He was in his late thirties and wore a new Tampa Bay Buccaneers baseball cap. In his mouth was a huge cigar, and he took it out with one hand and picked up an Egg McMuffin with the other. He checked his watch. Top of the hour. He clicked the remote control with the McMuffin hand and surfed over to CNN for two minutes, to make sure nothing had broken out in the world that would demand his response, and then over to A&E and the biography of Burt Reynolds for background noise while he read the Herald editorials. He put the McMuffin down on the rim of the tub and picked up the cup of orange juice. On TV, Burt made a long football run for Florida State in a vintage film of a forgotten Auburn game. The tub's edge also held jelly doughnuts, breakfast fajitas and a scrambled egg/sausage breakfast in a preformed plastic tray. On the toilet lid, next to the fan, was a hardcover book from 1939, the WPA guide to Florida. Inside the cover, the man had written his name. Serge A. Storms.
Like now, Serge was usually naked when he was in a motel, but it wasn't sexual. Serge thought clothes were inefficient and uncomfortable; they restricted his movements, and his skin wanted to breathe. Nudity also cut down on changing time, since he was constantly in and out of the shower, subjecting himself to rapid temperature changes, alternating hot and cold water rushes that reminded him he was alive and cleaned out the pores to keep that skin breathing, feeling new.
Serge hesitated a second in the tub, mid-bite in the McMuffin. He couldn't think of what to do next, not even something as simple as chewing. Too many ideas raged at once in his head, and his brain gridlocked. He was paralyzed. Then the congestion slowly unclogged and he resumed chewing. When he realized he could move his arms again, he reached on top of the toilet tank for a prescription bottle. He shook it, but it made no sound, and he tossed the empty in the waste can beside the sink, a bank shot off the ceramic seashell tiles. Hell with it, he thought, I'll go natural. If it gets too strange, I'll run to a drug hole and score some Elavil that crackheads use to come down after four days on the ledge. Serge had started feeling the effects of not keeping up with his psychiatric medication.
And he liked it.
He got out of the tub and opened the back door of the motel room and walked out under a coconut palm. The breeze dried the sweat cold on his skin. He looked up into the nexus of palm fronds and coconuts set against the Big Dipper and a sky of brilliant stars over the water, away from the light pollution of the mainland. Serge said: "There's a big blow a-comin'."
Serge went back inside and slept all day in the motel tub, and his skin shriveled. Two hours before sunset, there was a loud beeping sound in room seven. Serge awoke in alarm and splashed around as if he'd discovered a cottonmouth in the water.He jumped from the tub and into his pants without toweling off.The beeping sound came from a metal box on the dresser, an antitheft car-tracking device.Serge threw on a shirt and packed a travel bag in seconds.He didn't close the door as he ran out with shirt open and shoes in his hands.He threw the bag and shoes in the front of the limo and sped away from the motel...