New York Times best-selling author and Islamorada resident Tim Dorsey, who passed away on Nov. 26 at age 62, never met a dive bar or a rundown motel that he didn’t like. In fact, on road trips — he famously hated to fly — he carried around a toolkit in his car to fix Motel 6 air conditioners that were on the fritz.
According to his friend Suz Orchard, a co-owner of Key West Island Books, he had taught himself how to repair the AC by watching a hotel staff member dig into the guts of his room’s control unit.
“He prided himself on being able to bring any hotel room’s temperature down to 60 degrees,” she told me, laughing. “He was gonna get one over on Motel 6 for the rest of his life and skirt the system.’”
This made perfect sense. During my time as an assistant at Monroe County Public Libraries, I watched him tell similar anecdotes at his standing-room-only annual speaking engagements, including one at Marathon library to publicize his 2017 book “Clownfish Blues.” With his audience in stitches, he proudly declared his love for the types of Florida eccentrics who populate his comically absurd crime capers, and he revealed that he often got story ideas from the shenanigans of fans at his talks.
For example, he once noticed a woman who was so intensely focused on her knitting in the front row of an event that he paused his talk to ask about her project. She replied, “I am knitting a straitjacket.”
The Marathon audience collapsed in laughter.
“That can only happen at one of Tim’s signings,” Orchard said. “They could turn into an engaging and hilarious show.”
Like clockwork, Dorsey wrote books and released them every year around February. Monroe County library patrons knew this, and every January they would ask excitedly when Dorsey was coming.
Susan McKee is a former longtime staffer at Islamorada library, where Dorsey held a few of his talks. She expressed sadness upon hearing about his death.
“He was so nice. And no more Serge,” she said sadly, referring to his most famous character, Serge A. Storms. “He was great — a savior of women and hero of the nice guy.”
Storms was also a mentally ill — and morally absolute — killer who concocted bizarre ways to get rid of those he deemed deserving of punishment.
Over the years, Storms developed a large cult following. With fans getting tattoos of the violent yet lovable character, Dorsey started to express concern.
“He was scared that his fans were emulating Storms,” said Orchard. “Some of these people were scary.”
Dorsey is mentioned in the same breath as renowned Florida writers Dave Barry and Carl Hiaasen, who also wrote books and worked at newspapers. Born in Indiana, Dorsey started reporting in Alabama, then covered the crime beat at the Tampa Tribune, which provided a treasure trove of story ideas. He finally left his day job in 1999 to write his first novel, “Florida Roadkill.”
Orchard met Dorsey 15 years ago at her store’s book signing, and they became friends in the course of organizing his annual events.
“He was the big brother who wanted his little sister’s opinion,” she said, explaining that he would call her for feedback on comedic bits for his books. “He wanted to see if it was funny, then just hang up.”
He was also intensely private. Around 2020, he confided to Orchard that he was ill but didn’t provide details. (No cause of death has been released by his family.)
“I never asked, I never pushed it,” she said. “I would never betray that trust. … I found myself not wanting to bug him, yet wanting to make sure he was okay.”
Throughout 2021 and 2022, despite somehow still publishing books, Dorsey got slower and slower about returning her phone calls, first due to surgery, and then after entering assisted care.
“In 2023, he would answer sometimes, but then he didn’t answer my calls past July,” Orchard said.
A friend of a friend called to inform her of his passing.
“He said, ‘I didn’t want you to hear from the internet.’ I said, ‘Oh, my God, Tim,’ and I started crying,” she said.
Perhaps Dorsey was so private about his illness in order to preserve his verdant legacy — 26 Serge A. Storms books and a string of raucously energetic speaking engagements to promote them.
But Dorsey could also be shy and reserved. He confessed to Orchard that he got nervous before book signings. He would sometimes need time to warm up. In those cases, he kept his head down and signed book after book, with nary a pause.
Inevitably, a fan would say something intriguing. Or downright odd.
“Then he’d look up and see his people,” said Orchard.
And the fun would begin.