Some books depend on in-depth plots to make their marks on the literary world. Others rely on their masterfully created characters. And then there are others, such as Tim Dorsey’s Cadillac Beach, that forgo all of this in favor of pure, madcap craziness. The question is, does it work?
Cadillac Beach is mostly the story of Serge Storms, a certifiably crazy drifter who has a whole list of goals which include embarrassing Fidel Castro, restoring pride to the CIA, bring the Today show to Miami and, most importantly, solving the mystery of the jewel heist that killed his grandfather and left some very valuable gems unaccounted for. I say this is "mostly" the story of Serge because Cadillac Beach brings in a whole host of characters, making it difficult to follow the variety of stories that take place. We skip back and forth in time from the present day to the 1960s, when Serge’s grandfather was making his mark in the organized crime world. Bring in a few unstable CIA agents, some unlucky traveling salesmen who accidentally knock off a mafia crime boss and plenty of other secondary characters and you’ve got one wild, sometimes confusing ride.
The wonderful part of this book just happens to be the same as its downfall—the frantic, demented nature of it. This book is a thrill ride from page one, when a group of salesmen at a convention try to play a practical joke on one of their buddies and instead end up kidnapping and shooting Tony Marsicano, the next mob boss of one of the biggest families in the area. It doesn’t let up as Serge is introduced. In fact, it gets even crazier because every word out of Serge’s mouth (and the actions that follow) is in turn brilliant, mind-boggling or just flat-out crazy. Unfortunately, this lunacy also makes for quite a bit of confusion and a complete lack of characters that the reader can relate to in any shape or form.
If Dorsey would have concentrated on the core of the book—Serge finding out how his grandfather died and recovering the missing gems—it might have worked out nicely. Unfortunately, he finds it necessary to throw in a variety of other plots that just end up muddying the waters and ultimately making the book too hard to follow. When Cadillac Beach is reaching its climax, the reader finds himself scratching his head in confusion instead of turning the pages to find out what happens next. Although Dorsey clearly has a talent for creating quirky characters and complexly hilarious situations, Cadillac Beach just crams way too much into one book and ends up being a confusing and disjointed jumble.