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					        Tropical Stars
                                                                                              Florida’s
                                                                                             New Wave
                                                                                              of Crime
                                                                                              Writers
                                                                                             by Stuart McIver




                                                                                                                               Jill Warvel
I
     tell my students I can’t imagine a story                                     acter Florida is! Swamps filled with
     that doesn’t grow out of the place it                                        alligators and cottonmouth moccasins
     is portraying,” said Les Standiford,                                         contrast with the glittering cities boast-
author of 14 books, including the John                                            ing modern skyscrapers. The sanitized
Deal series, and director of the Creative                                         perfection of Disneyworld gives way
Writing Program at Miami’s Florida In-                                            farther south to the laid-back funki-
ternational University. “Place is as im-                                          ness of Key West. Marinas packed with
portant as character and the                                                                  million-dollar yachts are
story itself. In fact, place be-                                                              just down the highways
comes a character—in all its                                                                  from suburbs filled with
aspects, atmosphere, physi-                                                                   flimsy new houses waiting
cal setting, time, weather.”                                                                  to be blown away in the
                                                                                               Jill Warvel




  And what a colorful char-                                                                   next hurricane.
24   MYSTERY SCENE, WINTER ISSUE #83, 2004   FOR MORE INFORMATION: WWW.MYSTERYSCENEMAG.COM
               Weirdness: A Natural Resource
               From morning papers and evening TV
               newscasts, crime leaps out at Floridians
                                                                   There are roughly three periods
               every day. All states have crime but Florida      in Florida literary history—before
               introduces startling variations. A motel
               guest complains of the smell in his room           Miami Vice, during Miami Vice,
               and a closer look reveals a body underneath
               the bed. A man cuts off his wife’s head and                   and after Miami Vice.”
               throws it at a cop. In the carnival town of
               Gibsonton a sideshow performer known
                                                                                                    —James W. Hall
               as Lobster Boy is murdered by a hit man
               hired by the Human Blockhead.                     though there has been successful Florida     MacDonald published The Deep Blue
                   The natives have naturally been influ-        mystery fiction in the past. In 1939 Davis   Goodbye, the first of his 21 Travis McGee
               enced by the riches surrounding them. The         Dresser, writing as Brett Halliday, intro-   novels. McGee, wrote MacDonald, was
               tiny community of Oklawaha chose as its           duced a Miami private eye named Mike         “a knight in slightly tarnished armor—
               historical event most worthy of reenacting        Shayne. More than 70 Shayne books fol-       a thinking man’s Robin Hood.” McGee
               a bloody shootout between the FBI and the         lowed. Other writers who used Florida as     traveled throughout the state righting
               Ma Barker Gang. A T-shirt asks “Where is          a setting included Leslie Charteris, who     wrongs and introducing his millions of
               Bum Farto?” to honor a vanished Key West          wrote the Saint series, George Harmon        devoted readers to Florida’s wonders—
               fire chief convicted of selling cocaine at his    Coxe, Stephen Ransom, Mignon Eberhart        and mounting ecological problems. The
               fire station. “There’s so much material here      and Damon Runyon. The most popular           public attention MacDonald focused on
               that if you read the papers and have half a       American mystery writer in the first half    the latter is at least as great a part of his
                                                                                                              legacy as his likable “salvage consultant”
                                                                                                              hero.
                                                                                                                  Today, Randy Wayne White is fol-
                                                        “South Florida is now to                              lowing MacDonald’s lead with hard-
                                                        mysteries what L.A. was                               hitting stories featuring Doc Ford, a ma-
                                                                                                              rine biologist based on picturesque Sanibel
                                                        in the days of Chandler                               Island. A former Sanibel fishing guide,
                                                                                                              White writes with authority on ecologi-
                                                        and Hammett.”                                         cal problems of the marine world in such
                                                                                                              gripping novels as Captiva and Shark
Danny Turner




                                                                        —Edna Buchanan
                                                                                                              River. Branching out from the writing
                                                                                                              business, White recently opened a restau-
               brain, the plots are sitting right there,” said   of the twentieth century, Mary Roberts       rant on Sanibel Island called Doc Ford's
               Carl Hiaasen, a third-generation Floridian        Rinehart, spent her winters on Useppa Is-    Sanibel Rum Bar & Grille, a sports bar
               who is a columnist for the Miami Herald           land in Pine Island Sound, but her short     that serves gourmet food.
               and a novelist for the connoisseurs of weird.     story, “Murder and the South Wind,” was          Carl Hiaasen attacks environmental
               “You can get a good idea for a novel just         her only fiction set in Florida.             despoilers with fiendish glee in his best-
               walking from one concourse to another in                                                       selling novels. His satiric wit has also tar-
               Miami International Airport.”                     Florida Knights                              geted revolutionaries, the tourism in-
                  Many Floridians believe the Sunshine           It was not until 1964 that Florida started   dustry, cosmetic surgeons, tournament
               State has now surpassed California as             to blossom as a prime locale for mys-        fishermen, and hurricane profiteers. Of
               America’s mystery capital. In her whis-           teries. That was the year that John D.       course, hapless public servants are always
               pery voice, Edna Buchanan, author of a
               bestselling series set in Miami, declared,
               “South Florida is now to mysteries what                “You can get a good idea for a
               L.A. was in the days of Chandler and Ham-
               mett. There is no place as dangerous, as                 novel just walking from one
               treacherous and, in so many ways, as in-
               nocent.”
                                                                            concourse to another in
                                                                      Miami International Airport.”
               Early Days
                                                                                                                                                               Elena Seibert




               This dominance of the crime and mystery                                               —Carl Hiaasen
               field is a relatively recent phenomenon al-
                                                                                                                                          MYSTERY SCENE   25
                                                                                            about bestsellers, found he liked        the Gold Coast with charaters ranging
                                                                                            to read them and moved on to             from a Palm Beacher who kills a Haitian
                                                                                            writing them. His impressive             gardener to an unconventional Cracker
                                                                                            output includes Under Cover of           judge and even to alligator poachers in
                                                                                            Daylight, Body Language and              Belle Glade. The Florida-set Out of Sight
                                                                                            Rough Draft. In 2003, St. Mar-           was made into a memorable George
                                                                                            tin’s published a book of his es-        Clooney/Jennifer Lopez film and is the
                                                                                            says about Florida whose title           basis for the current TV show Karen Cisco.
                                                                                            says it all: Hot Damn!: Alliga-              Tampa’s Tim Dorsey has joined Hi-
                                                                                            tors in the Casino, Nude Women           aasen in the special mystery genre that he
                                                                                            in the Grass, How Seashells              refers to as “whacked out.” Dorsey’s titles
                                                                                            Changed the Course of History,           reflect his joyful approach—Cadillac Beach,
                                                                                            and Other Dispatches from Par-           The Stingray Shuffles, Florida Roadkill,
                                                                                            adise.                                   Hammerhead Ranch Motel, Orange Crush
                                                                                                                                     and Triggerfish Twist.
                                                                                            Vice Squad
                                                                                                Hall identifies a two-decade old     Crime Spree
                                                                                                television phenomenon as a driv-     Since the late 1980s—the “after Miami Vice”
                                                                                                ing force in the current popu-       era—an impressive number of mystery writ-
                                                                                                larity of Florida as a setting is.   ers have come forward throughout Florida.
                                                                                                Starting in 1984, Miami Vice         The Sunshine State can now point with
NBC-TV




                                                                                                ran in prime time for six years,     pride to roughly a hundred published mys-
                                                                                                mesmerizing viewers with flashy      tery authors in the state, according to au-
                            TV legend has it that Miami Vice (1984-1989) was born when          cars, flashier women, boatloads      thor Carolyn Cain (The Secret at the Break-
                            NBC programming chief Brandon Tartikoff gave director Michael       of cocaine, glimpses of an alli-
                            Mann a two-word concept: “MTV cops.” Above, the boys of             gator named Elvis, and two styl-
                            summer themselves: Det. Ricardo Tubbs (Philip Michael Thomas,       ish detectives named Crockett
                            left) and Det. Sonny Crockett (Don Johnson).                        and Tubbs.
                                                                                                    Said Hall: “There are roughly
                           good for a storyline. Striptease takes place three periods in Florida literary history—
                           in his birthplace, Fort Lauderdale, and before Miami Vice, during Miami Vice
                           was inspired by the difficulties of a local ,and after Miami Vice.”
                           politician. And who else but Hiaasen would                    Several significant South Florida writ-
                           turn a frozen lizard into a weapon? (Bas- ers who moved onstage during the Miami
                           ket Case, 2002) The promisingly titled Vice era including Elmore Leonard, Carl
                           Skinny Dip will arrive in stores this July. Hiaasen, Edna Buchanan and the late
                                Another author who stresses environ- Charles Willeford.
                           mental themes is James W. Hall. A mem-                        Willeford has been called the last of the
                           ber of Florida International University’s great pulp writers. After years of paperback                    Carolina Garcia-Aguilera
                           creative writing faculty, Hall taught a course output he finally achieved mainstream suc-
                                                                                                     cess in the 1980s with his
                                 Sweet Nothings Translated                                           quirky, violent novels fea-
                                             at www.BarbaraParker.com                                turing Miami homicide de-       ers Hotel), a former president of the Florida
                                                                                                     tective Hoke Moseley. Titles    Chapter of Mystery Writers of America.
                                             Barbara Parker says:                                    to look for include New Hope        Among these is Les Standiford (Ha-
                                                                                                     for the Dead, Sideswipe, and    vana Run), whose FIU writing program
                                             If you say “sweetheart” or “darling” in English,        Miami Blues, which found        can point to such distinguished alumni as
                                             try it in Spanish: amorcito, mi querida, mi             its way to Hollywood in a       Dennis Lehane and Florida novelist Bar-
                                              amor, mi vida. They mean: my little love, my           film featuring Alec Baldwin     bara Parker. Standiford has created a se-
                                                loved one, my love, my life. Te quiero means         as the psychotic bad guy.       ries featuring John Deal, described by the
Photo credit: Jim Norman




                                                 “I love you” (literally, “I want you”).                 Elmore Leonard is now       author as “an honest building contractor.”
                                                                                                     almost as identified with       Deal has spent much of his adult life try-
                                                  They sound better in Spanish, don’t they?
                                                                                                     North Palm Beach as he is       ing to rebuild the Miami construction firm
                                                                                                     with Detroit. He captures       that his late mob-connected father ruined.
                                                                                                     the sound and the action of     Talk about a sense of place—what could
                           26   MYSTERY SCENE
be more Floridian than land swindles and
construction scams?                                   “No one who chances upon the
Contents Under Pressure                            phenomenon of Stiltsville for the
While in the past men predominated
among Sunshine State mystery writers,
                                                  first time will ever forget the sight
Carolyn Cain says that’s no longer the case.           of homes that hover above the
Women now constitute about half of
Florida’s mystery perpetrators and several          water, miles from any shore, like
make regular climbs up the bestseller lists.                structures from a dream.”
    Among the leaders are three women
who have built the ethnic and cultural ten-     Les Standiford, in a 1998 letter to the Florida Review Board
                                                        urging the preservation of the historic structures in
sions of modern Florida right into the lives                            Biscayne Bay. <www.stiltsville.org>
of their characters.
    Edna Buchanan (The Ice Maiden, You
Only Die Twice) offers Britt Montero, a jour-
nalist whose father was a Cuban revolu-
tionary killed by a Castro firing squad. Her
mother, from whom she is estranged, is an
old-line South Florida Anglo Episcopalian.
But it is Britt’s adventures as a andrena-
line-addicted police reporter that really
brings home the complexity of today’s
Miami. Buchanan, of course, developed her
eye for local color as a Pulitzer Prize-win-                     Les Standiford (top left)
ning reporter for The Miami Herald.                              brings environmental
    Barbara Parker (Suspicion of Vengeance,                      issues to the fore in his
                                                                 work. Above: A Stiltsville
Suspicion of Madness) delves into cultural
                                                                 home.
and ethnic issues through the relationship
between Anglo lawyer Gail Connor and
Anthony Quintana, a Cuban defense at-
torney. The attraction between this high-
powered duo adds heat to the high ten-                           Above left: John D. MacDonald
sion plots in Florida’s lush landscape.                          (1916-1986) was the
    Carolina Garcia-Aguilera (Havana Heat,                       godfather of the modern
Bitter Sugar) looks at South Florida through                     Florida mystery.
the eyes of Lupe Solano, a young Cuban-                          Left: Randy Wayne White’s
                                                                 Pine Island home on Florida’s
American who has become a P.I. much
                                                                 Gulf Coast. Bottom: Randy
to the chagrin of her wealthy, conservative
                                                                 Wayne White
family. Lupe has a refreshingly high-end
existence for a P.I., wheeling around Mi-
ami in a Mercedes and fending off (or not)       “I’m starting a journal about what it’s
the advance of dashingly handsome men.           like to live where I live: an old Cracker
Garcia-Aquilera offered the stand-alone
thriller Luck of the Draw in 2003, again         house built on short stilts, on a Calusa
drawing on her Cuban background.                 Indian mound, on an acre of old tropical
                                                 growth overlooking the bay. From where
Young Guns
Since the blossoming of the Florida mys-
                                                 I write this, I can look across that water
tery in the 1980s many other mystery writ-       and see Captiva and Sanibel on the
ers has emerged throughout Florida: from         horizon—the islands where I was a
Miami, James Grippando and Dirk Wyle;
                                                 fishing guide for many years.”
from Key West, John Leslie, Laurence
Shames and Tom Corcoran; from Broward            —Randy Wayne White at <www.docford.com>
County, Elaine Viets, Nancy Cohen, Richard
                                                                                                 MYSTERY SCENE   27
                                                                                                        ting in a future book.
                                                                                                            Elaine Viets, whose Francesca Vierling
                                                                                                        series was set in the author’s hometown,
                                                                                                        St. Louis, finally decided after seven years
                                                                                                        in Hollywood, Florida, that the time had
                                                                                                        come to write a Florida series. The result
                                                                                                        was her Dead-End Job Mysteries, heav-
                                                                                                        ily laced with her delightful off-the-wall
                                                                                                        sense of humor.
                                                                                                            “It was a good move for me,” she said.
                                                                                                        “As soon as I started writing about Florida,
                                                                                                        my sales went way up.”
                                                                                                            Viets was nudged into her new series
Echoing his winningly-titled New Hope for the Dead, the literary reputation                             by Joanne Sinchuk, proprietor of Murder
of Charles Willeford ( 1919-1988) is on the rise. Above: Warren Oates (left) and                        on the Beach, a seven-year-old mystery
Charles Willeford on the film set of Cockfighter (1974). According to Willeford,                        bookstore in Delray Beach. “Somebody
Cockfighter has the distinction of being the only film that producer Roger Cor-                         needs to write humorous Florida myster-
man ever lost money on. Above right: a well-regarded 1997 biography by Don Her-                         ies from the woman’s point of view, and
ron. Left: Miami Blues (1990) which starred Alec Baldwin, Fred Ward and Jen-                            you’re the one,” Sinchuk told her.
nifer Jason Leigh was based on the first of Willeford’s sardonic Hoke Mosely novels.                        As far as Sinchuk is concerned, Florida
                                                                                                        writers can’t turn out their books fast
Smitten, Cynthia Smith, Christine Kling,                  Jonathan King, whose first novel, The         enough to suit her. She limits her inter-
Kristy Montee and Jonathan King; from                     Blue Edge of Midnight, won as best first      net sales to Florida books—and these now
Boca Raton, Daniel Keyes and J.R. Rip-                    novel, and T.J. MacGregor, whose Out of       constitute forty percent of her volume.
ley (Glenn Meganck); from Wellington,                     Sight, took the honors for best paperback         “I have customers who place across
T.J. MacGregor and Rob MacGregor; from                    original. Trish MacGregor joins her hus-
Boynton Beach, Laura Belgrave; from Vero                  band Rob MacGregor to form the state’s
Beach, David Hagberg and Martha Pow-                      first husband-and-wife team of Edgar
ell; from Orchid Beach, Stuart Woods;                     winners. Rob had won in 1996 for best
from Melbourne, Carolyn Cain; from Ti-                    young adult novel.
tusville, Anna Flowers-Brotemarkle; from                     In 2002, Kristy Montee and her sister
Ormond Beach, Steve Glassman; from                        Kelly Nichols writing as P.J. Parrish had
Orlando, Bob Truluck; Naples, Karen                       their book Dead of Winter nominated for
Harper; from Fort Myers Beach, Allan                      Best Paperback Original. The book was
Pedrazas; from Pine Island, Randy Wayne                   also nominated for an Anthony Award.
White; from Sarasota, Stuart Kaminsky                     Stuart Kaminsky, Stuart Woods, Elmore
and Wayne Barcomb; from Tampa, Tim                        Leonard, Lynne Barrett (FIU faculty) and      the board orders for any Florida crime
Dorsey and Diane Vogt; from Newberry,                     the late Lawrence Sanders have won            fiction,” she says. “My second biggest in-
Aileen Schumacher; from Wewahitchka,                      Edgars, while a number of Florida.writ-       dividual buyer comes from a very cold
Michael Lister, and from Tallahassee,                     ers have been honored with nominations,       place—Norway.”
Judge Terry Powell Lewis and S.V. Date.                   including Barbara Parker, Edna Buchanan,          The boom in Florida mysteries prom-
    The list keeps growing. In only a decade              Daniel Keyes, Allan Pedrazas, humorist        ises to continue unabated. Many of to-
the Florida Chapter of the Mystery Writ-                  Dave Barry, and David Hagberg aka Sean        day’s most talented writers are young.
ers of America has become the third largest               Flannery.                                     Furthermore they are energized by an
state chapter in the country, listing roughly                In addition, Crime Fiction and Film        active mystery writers’ community and
200 members. Each March the chapter                       in the Sunshine State: Florida Noir, ed-      excellent creative writing schools. But
conducts SleuthFest, the largest mystery                  ited by Steve Glassman and Maurice O’-        it’s the Florida “state of mind” that’s the
writing conference in the country. More                   Sullivan, was a finalist in the Best Criti-   real ace in the hole for local writers—
than 300 writers, published and unpub-                    cal/Biography category.                       and their fans.                           2
lished, are expected for the 2004 confer-                    Michael Connelly, a former Sarasota
ence in Fort Lauderdale.                                  and Fort Lauderdale resident, won an              Stuart McIver, a former president of
    Each year MWA awards Edgars—short                     Edgar in 1993—but for a book set in Los       the MWA’s Florida chapter, is the author
for Edgar Allan Poe—to the writers of the                 Angeles. After a series of excellent Cali-    of Death in the Everglades, a fact crime
best books, stories, plays and screenplays.               fornia novels he has now moved back to        book about America’s first environmen-
In 2003 Florida produced two winners—                     Tampa giving us hope for a Florida set-       tal murder.
28   MYSTERY SCENE

				
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