by Tim Dorsey; New York, William Morrow, 2007, 384 pages, $24.95
Dr. Vogel-Scibilia is assistant clinical professor at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, Pittsburgh.
Tim Dorsey fires off his ninth book, Hurricane Punch, a fictional account of a pair of would-be serial killers, the psychiatrically unstable Serge A. Storms and his inebriated sidekick Coleman, who like to chase the edge of the hurricane while drinking peyote-laced "hurricane punch." Starting off with the three main characters, Serge, Officer Maloney, and Reporter McSwirley in three adjacent therapists' offices, Dorsey spins a farcical tale laced with dark humorous invective that pokes fun at reporters, police officers, and psychiatrists. The book starts with the assumption that Serge and Coleman are a serial-killing duo. But is there another perpetrator on the beaches of Tampa, Florida?
Some of Dorsey's other books may stall as the story progresses, but Hurricane Punch keeps running to the end on the edges—the edge of the plot, the edge of hurricanes, and the edge of significantly irreverent commentary about people with mental illness and the people who treat them. There are numerous references to the assumption that a serial killer could have two personalities and be murdering without knowing it, could have violent behavior as a common consequence of mental illness, or could be killing in a deviously crafty manner as an indicator of insanity.
Psychiatrists are portrayed as bored, dull observers who either want to give Serge controlled substances and have him kickback half of the money made from selling the drugs or who hide behind the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and conspire not to report dangerous behavior. They seem incapable of contributing to the mental health of their clients. Serge's therapist can't even confront his dangerous behavior appropriately. During the appointment after an act of violence by Serge in the psychiatrist's parking lot after the previous session, the psychiatrist confronts Serge about the attack. The doctor comments only that the perpetrator was yelling "bad monkey," the behavioral therapy concept that the therapist had been trying to have Serge focus on right before the attack. In fact no one, including the police, have even half the skills necessary to reign in Serge and Coleman's actions. The ending is extremely implausible to the average reader and even less believable to mental health therapists.
Overall, this book was well written and crafted mechanically. The story kept my attention and interweaved multiple plots simultaneously. The only problem is the rendering of psychotherapy and especially the treatment of persons with mental illness. If only Dorsey could spend his time poking fun at targets other than people with brain disorders and their therapists.