Embalming a corpse shouldn’t be fun. It shouldn’t make you laugh out loud. But in West Palm by Joss Cordero, I was choking with laughter. I can’t think of anything that exactly compares. But I did think of Silence of the Lambs when cannibal Hannibal Lecter tells us he is “having an old friend for dinner.” West Palm is filled with this kind of humor, and reminded me a bit of the terrific thrillers by Carl Hiaasen, who also uses Florida as his base.
The amateur embalmer in West Palm is serial killer Zach, who provides the necessary corpse and then goes to work. Other equally bizarre work is behind him – he fashions one of his victims into a sort of Valentine card, a first for the Palm Beach County medical examiner. Zach is a first for me too, a serial killer who somehow got my sympathy. We feel for this poor twisted product. Where he comes from and how he was shaped is something I don’t want to give away. But he’s touching in his madness. Stalking him is private eye Tim Smoker, who puts a piece of Zach’s history together at the Holiness Fire House of Prayer, where rattlesnakes are part of the service. Madness must be catching, for Smoker winds up with a four-foot rattlesnake wrapped around his arm. And he has an enlightening conversation with a sweet little old lady who drinks arsenic at every service. This kind of authentic southland atmosphere gives West Palm a nice edge, or should I say knife edge? It’s Zach’s weapon of choice. For anyone who’s been downloading the Internet installments of West Palm, Part IV contains several fine surprises, and in keeping with the tropical setting, the alligators dine.