Freeway 75 cuts throughout southern Florida, by way of the Everglades, going from the seashores of Fort Lauderdale to the seashores of Naples. Freeway 75 has one other identify. It’s referred to as “Alligator Alley” for the plain motive that the knobby-headed reptiles thrive within the swamp on either side of the eighty-mile roadway. And touring down this freeway, as I’ve achieved, it’s not laborious to think about two killers on a darkish evening dragging a physique into the swamp realizing the gators will eliminate the corpse—which is just about how my new Joe DeMarco thriller, Alligator Alley, begins.
I set different components of Alligator Alley in Key West and Naples and Miami, locations we handed by way of as my spouse and I drove from Key West to the panhandle when my son was graduating from the Navy’s diver coaching college in Panama Metropolis. On this highway journey, we noticed Hemingway’s home in Key West and the feral six-toed cats that roam the place. We noticed swordfish and mahi-mahi hanging on the piers the place the constitution fishing boats docked. We drove the hundred-mile freeway that crosses the Florida Keys archipelago from Key West to Key Largo, the place you trip simply above the waves with the Atlantic Ocean on one facet and the Gulf of Mexico on the opposite—the entire time imagining what it have to be like throughout a hurricane. We took a tour by way of the Everglades on a type of boats with an enormous fan on the again and noticed the gators slithering into the water and cypress timber dripping with blue Spanish moss. We noticed Miami’s skyscrapers perched on Biscayne Bay and the pastel-colored artwork deco buildings on Ocean Drive and big billboards promoting jai alai video games. On the waterfront in Fort Lauderdale, we walked by gleaming two-hundred-foot yachts owned by billionaires. In Tampa, we watched brown-skinned ladies sitting in storefront home windows rolling cigars with their fast, laborious fingers and on the Florida panhandle, we noticed the casinos of the Redneck Riviera.
Sure, I noticed all these locations and after I wrote Alligator Alley, I felt snug utilizing a few of them as settings in my e book, however I additionally knew that I noticed Florida as a vacationer and never as somebody who’d lived there for a few years and knew the state and its folks intimately. Thankfully, I used to be capable of compensate for my lack of time on the bottom in Florida as a result of so many different books have been set there, books written by really gifted authors, and I’d learn a lot of these authors’ books.
The Deep Blue Good-by by John D. MacDonald
The primary writer that involves thoughts after I consider books set in Florida is John D. MacDonald. I’ve learn each certainly one of his Travis McGee novels—The Deep Blue Good-by, Nightmare in Pink, A Purple Place for Dying and 18 Extra—and I think about there are a number of authors writing crime fiction right this moment that had been impressed by John D. MacDonald as I used to be. Travis McGee is certainly the prototype for a lot of of right this moment’s lesser-known crime novel protagonists. He isn’t a cop or a licensed investigator however the man you go to when the legislation received’t or can’t assist. He’s a flawed knight-errant. There are ethical traces he received’t cross—however the traces have a tendency to maneuver. He lives on a houseboat in Fort Lauderdale that he received in a poker recreation referred to as the Busted Flush. His associate, recognized solely as Meyer, is a rich, related economist, however I think about that if MacDonald was writing right this moment, his sidekick could be a hacker as a result of one factor about MacDonald’s novels is that they mirrored altering occasions. His first Travis McGee novel was revealed in 1964, the final one in 1985, and as tradition and attitudes and politics modified over these twenty years, MacDonald’s books mirrored this. Studying the Travis McGee novels not solely offers you a greater sense of Florida as a setting, however in addition they present how an writer and his characters change with altering occasions.
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Skink No Give up by Carl Hiaasen
I really like the titles and covers of Carl Hiaasen’s crime novels: Sick Pet, Unhealthy Monkey, Paradise Screwed, Razor Woman, Skink No Give up, and so forth. He’s well-known for the humor and satire in his books, nearly all of that are set in Florida, and the seemingly over-the-top but true-to-life characters, just like the corrupt politician performed by Burt Reynolds within the film Strip Tease. After which there’s Skink, the protagonist in eight of his books. Skink is a one-eyed former governor who romps by way of the Everglades combating criminals and industrial growth and dines on roadkill.
However what I discover fascinating about Hiaasen is that he’s a former journalist nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. He did critical investigative reporting for the Miami Herald concerning the points plaguing the Sunshine State—but he chooses to put in writing about these points in his novels in a humorous manner. I watched an interview he gave, and he was requested: “Why do you set your books in Florida?” His reply was: “[Because] there’s a lot crime and corruption … and after each catastrophe, the scammers are available in. One of many first individuals who obtained arrested for stealing COVID reduction cash purchased a blue Lamborghini and posted a photograph of it on-line.” Can’t you simply see the blue Lamborghini on the duvet of certainly one of his books?
Out of Sight by Elmore Leonard
I don’t know what number of Elmore Leonard novels have been set in or began off in Florida however simply those which were tailored for films makes a powerful checklist: Rum Punch (Jackie Brown), Out of Sight, Get Shorty, Stick, The Huge Bounce, Cat Chaser. What you received’t discover in Leonard’s books are poetic descriptions of the Florida panorama. One in every of Leonard’s Ten Guidelines for Good Writing—and if you happen to’re a author and also you haven’t his guidelines, it’s best to—is: “Don’t go into nice element describing locations and issues.”
Leonard, like Hiaasen, is fascinated by Florida’s grifters and conmen and petty criminals. In his personal phrases: “The unhealthy guys are the enjoyable guys. The one folks I’ve hassle [writing] are the so-called regular varieties.” And it’s by way of the phrases of his characters that Florida comes alive in Leonard’s novels:
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“It doesn’t trouble you,” Nolen Tyler mentioned, “you name this place the Coconut Palms, there isn’t a single palm tree on the market?”
“The excessive rise on the south facet of us, 9 tales, is known as the Nautilus,” Moran mentioned, “however I don’t assume it’s a submarine. The one on the opposite facet, it’s ten tales, is the Aurora. Inform me if you happen to assume it appears to be like like a radiant glow within the higher ambiance.”
I’d give something to have the ability to write like Elmore Leonard.
The Corpse Had a Acquainted Face by Edna Buchanan
Within the curiosity of full disclosure—and realizing upfront that I’ll embarrass myself by displaying my ignorance—I’d not learn an Edna Buchanan e book till I started doing analysis for this text. However if you happen to Google “Well-known Florida Writers” along with the three talked about above, you’ll nearly at all times see the identify Edna Buchanan. I got here throughout her identify after I learn Bare Got here the Manatee. Bare Got here the Manatee is a thriller parody written by 13 Florida writers, every author contributing a chapter, and the thought for the e book, based on one supply, happened at a ship get together attended by Carl Hiaasen, Elmore Leonard and, drumroll, Edna Buchanan.
Edna Buchanan received the Pulitzer Prize whereas working for the Miami Herald. Her beat was crime and politics, and from her expertise got here her non-fiction e book The Corpse Had a Acquainted Face, a e book which spawned two films and is comparable in some methods to Murder: A Yr on the Killing Road by The Wire’s David Simon. To this point, Edna Buchanan has written sixteen novels, principally set in Florida, and three different non-fiction books.
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I’ve by no means met Ms. Buchanan however would like to, particularly after I learn one line from The Corpse Had a Acquainted Face: “To entrust to an editor a narrative over which you’ve gotten labored and to which your identify and repute are connected may be like sending your daughter off for a night with Ted Bundy.”
Florida by Lauren Groff
There are numerous gifted, well-known crime fiction authors who’ve used Florida for a setting: Randy Wayne White, Lawrence Sanders, John Lutz, James Swain, Lucy Burdette, Stuart Woods, and John Grisham to call a number of. However the final writer I wished to incorporate on this article just isn’t a criminal offense novelist. It’s Lauren Groff. Her e book Florida was a finalist for the Nationwide Ebook Award and within the phrases of 1 reviewer: “The tales … span characters, cities, many years, even centuries, however Florida—its panorama, local weather, historical past, and frame of mind—turns into its gravitational middle: an vitality, a temper, as a lot as a spot of residence.” One other reviewer mentioned: “Groff has grasped the true grotesqueness of Florida, an ‘Eden of harmful issues’ spliced with stinking our bodies, dwelling and lifeless.” I’d counsel you place this e book in your studying checklist if you wish to get an outstanding sense of Florida as a setting.