"No Sunscreen for the Dead" by Tim Dorsey; William Morrow (336 pages, $26.99)
Serge Storms has decided to retire.
His legions of fans need not fear, however. In the first place, how long is his attention span? And retire from what, exactly?
In Tampa author Tim Dorsey's popular series of books about him, Serge pursues his passion for Florida history (with occasional side trips to murder someone who has it coming) without any visible means of support, and certainly no regular hours.
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But in "No Sunscreen for the Dead," the 22nd book in the series (and maybe the best title yet), Serge is infatuated with the retirement lifestyle of a significant portion of Florida's residents. He's determined that he and his stoner sidekick, Coleman, will join their ranks. The Villages attracts him with its bawdy reputation ("the highest STD rate in all of Florida"), but he rejects it as too new: "Give me a retirement home with jalousie windows and terrazzo floors and I'll die a happy man."
Hence his Ford Falcon's arrival at Boca Vista Lago Isle Shores, familiarly known as Boca Shores, a picturesque old-school trailer park on the east-of-I-75 side of Sarasota.
Serge finds his way there by haunting one of Sarasota's Amish restaurants during early-bird dinner hour. He zeroes in on older couples and begins interviewing them for his latest oral history project. With Coleman in tow, he soon makes himself everybody's pal at Boca Shores, where he's thrilled to find people who not only remember Doolittle's Raiders and Chosin Reservoir but in many cases fought in World War II, Korea and Vietnam.
"I have the uncontrollable urge to march around the restaurant singing the national anthem in your honor," he tells one of them, "but as you can see, I'm redirecting all my energy to sitting on my hands."
He can't sit on his hands when he discovers that not all is well at Boca Shores. Its trusting elderly residents attract the usual predators, and Serge is moved to pursue his ingenious sideline. Sold a room-size humidifier (in Florida?!) to a nice old couple, and then a dehumidifier to go with it, to the tune of more than twenty grand? You might become a (formerly) human memorial to the nostalgic toy called Mold-A-Rama. We also find out just how much havoc can be wreaked by combining flour and firecrackers.
Meanwhile, other trouble is brewing. A man named Benmont Pinch (Heartbreakers joke alert) works near Tampa at Life Armor, an internet privacy firm.
Benmont is a middle-aged nerd, but he's friends with some of his millennial colleagues, such as a "young man with corked ears" called Sonic. "Life Armor was a company with an enlightened view, and they had diversified. Besides protecting privacy, they also invaded it.
"Sonic worked in the protection division, and Benmont was on the invasion team. ... He'd always thought that when individualism was stripped, it would be pried from a screaming populace by a ruthlessly tyrannical government. But instead of guns and goons, privacy was conquered by this:
"'Terms of Agreement.'
"People just gleefully handed it all over without a fight because they wanted to buy s – – online."
Benmont's work product includes a list of folks with a seemingly innocuous connection – until, that is, they start turning up dead in what appear to be murder-suicides. There are too many to be coincidental; as Benmont tries to alert authorities, other people close to him start dying, too. After a gun battle in the Life Armor parking lot, Benmont is on the run.
Meanwhile, in yet another plotline, Dorsey relates the teen years of Ted Pruitt, who came of age in the 1970s in West Palm Beach. Ted's friendship with a hippie named Topher Baez helped keep him out of the Vietnam-era draft, and led to other interesting changes in his life.
What does that have to do with Serge, or with Boca Shores, or with Benmont Pinch? Can Dorsey tie all this madness together in a wickedly clever yet weirdly inspiring plot?
As Serge says near the end, just before the firefight: "Trust me. What can go wrong?"