Tim Dorsey Visits the Old Folk
We do our best to stow away thoughts in regards to our eventual ageing, but I think we all know it’s for nought as we are not only surrounded by reminders of our mortality, but are also inevitably marching towards it, some faster than others. While the prospect of growing old is certainly a frightening one, life for retirees in general has been vastly improving over the past centuries; they live longer and safer than ever. Despite any technological advancements however, none can completely hide from the ravages of age, making senior citizens prime targets for various cons and swindles. Though in some cases these actions fly under everyone’s radar, in Tim Dorsey’s No Sunscreen for the Dead, a swindler of old folk finds himself in the crosshairs of one disturbed vigilante he could never anticipate: Serge Storms.
The story opens with our protagonist, Serge, and his buddy Coleman, deciding to take a stop at one of the world’s largest retirement villages, one where the grass is green and sex scandals waiting to erupt. They were simply looking to observe the elderly in their natural modern habitat, and perhaps even find a place to settle down once old age catches up to them as well. However, the vacation was not meant to be as Serge stumbles onto a very worrying fact: the residents of this retirement village are being swindled and defrauded. Disgusted by the perpetrator’s lack of respect for the elderly, the incalculable wisdom they have accumulated and the wars they have fought in, Serge makes it his mission to bring this conman to justice and instill in him a truly righteous sense of morality. Meanwhile, two detectives are out there, following the murderous trail left behind by our two vigilantes, tightening the noose around their questionable road trip.
No Sunscreen for the Dead was my first introduction to Tim Dorsey’s works, and I must say he made quite the impression on me starting from the opening pages. There is a prevailing air of madness, ridiculousness and surrealism which follows our protagonists throughout their journey and doesn’t let up for a single second. A couple of chapters in I essentially threw any expectations I had out the window and settled in with the idea of an extremely unpredictable story.
As you might imagine, this has the great benefit of making virtually any development a surprising one and I had no problems staying hooked, waiting for what the next turn in the tunnel of insanity might bring. With this being said, I do want to assure you Dorsey doesn’t overstep certain limits and always ensures the events and actions he describes fit into the story somehow… they’re not just complete and total randomness.
In this particular outing of Serge Storms, many of his and Coleman’s interactions are quite understandably centred on the elderly. This creates quite a few set-ups for generational humour, or more precisely, one related to the generational gap between them. Now, as someone who has worked around the elderly for numerous years, I was actually quite pleased with how Dorsey depicted the community, all ridiculousness taken into account.
While from an outsider’s perspective a retirement community might seem like a drab mass of silent and slightly confused copies of the same person, in reality they can be quite lively and at times very problematic… and it’s something we see quite a lot of in this story. Ultimately, somewhere in all the craziness depicted by the author, there is a realistic portrayal of what being old and living amongst others as ancient as yourself is like.
The Search for Misguided Justice
Though I assume most people who are familiar with the author’s works are already acquainted with Serge Storms and Coleman, this was my first time witnessing them in action… and it made me wish I had known about this series much sooner. Irreverent and truly disturbed to a certain palpable degree, Storms makes for perhaps one of the more riveting protagonists in recent memory. His very nature ensures you pay attention to every single thing he says and does, even if at times nonsensical. His strange personal approach to justice and morality do raise some interesting questions at times, but never without making us laugh first. This is perhaps actually the best way to describe this character: a mix of comedy, insanity and yet also truthfulness.
With all the events happening in the novel as well as the little distractions popping up here and there, it’s almost easy to forget there is actually a central plot to the whole thing with the massive fraud scheme syphoning away at the funds of the poor old residents. Essentially in line with the philosophy for the rest of No Sunscreen for the Dead, the plot develops in rather quirky and unexpected ways from start to finish and seldom gives you the ability to actually predict anything. For the most part, it does unfold like a classic mystery, in the sense of one clue leading to another until the final reveal, and even in this aspect it succeeds with brilliance; by the end of it I was equally interested in the culprit’s identity and what fate awaited them as I was in Serge and Coleman’s worldly perspectives.
The Final Verdict
No Sunscreen for the Dead by Tim Dorsey is a wild, hilarious and irreverent ride through a retirement village with a conman on the loose. It relishes in defying the reader’s expectations in the best ways possible and presents us with characters we will be essentially unable to forget for some time. With laughs, plot twists and food for thought aplenty, I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys dark comedies and wants to see what Tim Dorsey is all about.
Tim Dorsey is an American novelist best-known for the Serge Storms series following a mentally-disturbed vigilante with his very own moral code. Some of his better-known works include Florida Roadkill, Cadillac Beach, Atomic Lobster and The Pope of Palm Beach.