Tim Dorsey,
Orange Crush
(HarperTorch, 2001)

Politicians are often a scary breed, a sad testament to greed over issues, where misused power is the norm and personal ambition rises above the public good. And that's rather how Marlon Conrad appears in the first chapters of Tim Dorsey's dizzying Orange Crush.

Marlon is governor of Florida, a position he earned through years of backroom deals, family influence and mutable ethics. It's an election year, but Marlon has it all sewn up -- only a grave misstep could put his chance of re-election in jeopardy. But, in a public relations move gone drastically wrong, Marlon is sent overseas with his National Guard unit and, despite well-intentioned strings pulled by his wealthy father, finds himself in combat. And that's when things start to change.

Against all odds, Marlon makes friends there. And, when an unexpected fire fight puts his comrades and innocent civilians in danger, he summons up unexpected reserves of courage, compassion and empathy. A single, foolhardy gesture makes him a national hero. Back home, the re-election campaign is in the bag.

However, Marlon returns home a changed man. And Orange Crush follows his adventures in a tricked-out Winnebago, exploring the real Florida with his enthusiastic press secretary, an outraged chief of staff, and a growing collection of hangers-on. Grip-and-grin events are replaced with genuine concern for the common citizen, and Marlon's new wave of remarkable public support is offset by the rising ire of his former deep-pocketed cronies. Meanwhile, his gubernatorial opponent, coupled with an ambitious new girlfriend, begins pulling new tricks out of his hat in order to throw Marlon's campaign even further off balance. And dead bodies begin piling up in the wake of Marlon's tour....

Orange Crush is a political yarn with gusto and heart. Dorsey skewers Florida politics with a deft hand and a bipartisan disdain for the scoundrels and scallywags in office and the self-motivated hucksters who pull their strings. It's a refreshing dose of over-the-top mayhem, particularly in the final pages, as the campaign reaches its unpredictable climax. Some readers may find the characters painted with too broad a brush, but Dorsey's brazen caricatures and relentless satire had me in stitches.

Win or lose, Florida and the greater United States could certainly use more politicians like Marlon Conrad. And more writers like Tim Dorsey.

by Tom Knapp
17 June 2006

Buy it from Amazon.com.