Triggerfish Twist
Tim Dorsey
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Buy *Triggerfish Twist* online
Triggerfish Twist
Tim Dorsey
400 pages
January 2003
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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“So what’s up with Florida?” A fair question, especially in a Florida crime novel. To Tim Dorsey, it is crucial that he poses it directly to the reader before the narrative of his new novel, Triggerfish Twist, begins. Florida has

“become either romantically lawless or dangerously stupid, and often both: Casablanca without common sense, Dodge City with more weapons, the state that gave you the Miami Relatives…and changed the presidential election with a handful of confetti.”
Curled Up With a Good BookPeople pour into Florida. They have no natural ties to the area. They grab what they can, without regard to tradition or permanence of any kind. There is nothing in it for them to act responsibly. It is a variation of the game theory scenario, the tragedy of the commons. Florida, in Dorsey’s view, is treated by the carpetbaggers, developers and tourists like a common grazing area; if you don’t use all you can, someone else will. Ultimately, that common ground is destroyed because there is no incentive for any sane person to act in anything but your own interest. That is why Dorsey’s hero is a psychopath.

Although Triggerfish Twist is nominally the story of what happens when a Midwestern milquetoast named Jim Davenport moves his family to Tampa, Florida, the novel, as all of Dorsey’s novels, belongs to Serge Storms—amateur historian, adjunct lecturer, serial murderer. Serge is the heart of Dorsey’s novels, as well as a means of exacting vengeance on those that litter the countryside of the Florida of Dorsey’s imagination. But Triggerfish Twist is more than the story of individual characters; it tells the story of a neighborhood, from its near destruction to renewal. Because of this, Dorsey gives his crime novel a sociological backbone that lends substance to the black comedy.

The neighborhood on Triggerfish Lane that the Davenport family moves to in Tampa appears idyllic; after all, the

“sun was high, the sky clear, and children played catch and rode bikes in the street. And the colors!…lush gardens and hedges, pastel paint schemes.”
Paradise soon gives way to reality. The Davenport’s bullying neighbor Jack Terrier commands his dog to defecate on the Davenport lawn. Stolen cars materialize because the Triggerfish neighborhood is on the Tampa grid, making it a natural getaway route for carjackers. And an unscrupulous speed-freak real estate speculator is buying up the homes in the neighborhood, renting them to the worst possible tenants, and looking forward to bulldozing the entire neighborhood to put up townhouses. Needless to say, the Davenports are totally unprepared for life in Florida. Jim is pushed around by used car salesmen and little league coaches. And worse, his consultant’s job is not to make businesses run better. Instead, Jim finds that his new job is to “draw fire” after companies have decided to terminate employees.

Because the novel is somewhat panoramic, the plot becomes secondary to the array of scoundrels, misanthropes, cons and crazies that Dorsey assembles. Certainly, we know from the earliest pages that there will be some kind of violence involving the “most nonconfrontational” man in Florida, Jim Davenport. But the larger portrait is more important. More time is devoted to Serge’s views on Florida’s disappearing social capital, in the end, than the violence of the conclusion. As Serge puts it,

“Florida’s getting pretty scummy. We’re cursed by good fortune. Great weather, beautiful beaches, booming growth. But it’s a completely transient culture. Pick any street; almost nobody grew up there, and most will be gone in a few years. They appear to be neighborhoods, but they’re just collections of houses…there’s no fabric.”
Serge Storms seems to have read Robert Putnam, the Harvard political scientist famous for his Bowling Alone study that maintains that Americans are less likely to engage in voluntary group activities, such as bowling in leagues, going to church and belonging to civic organizations, and that may have a deleterious effect on democracy. Or at least Tim Dorsey has. So what’s up with Florida? In the end, Serge knows, and we do too, that while Florida may not have a “monopoly on truly bizarre and freakish crimes,” its crime writers—especially Carl Hiaasen, James Hall, and now Tim Dorsey—have learned to exploit them for smart, grand guignols with a deep concern for the realities of their fictional territory.

© 2002 by Martin Schmuttere for Curled Up With a Good Book

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