When asked to write an article about Florida crime writers I was instantly enthused. First it sounded interesting to choose a specific area, such as a single state. Secondly, Florida has has a reputation for an unusual collection of people and locales, each very distinctive, each with their own troubles and benefits.
You will find the influence of nearby islands, such as Cuba and Puerto Rico. You will find crime and crime lords in many factions. Of course you will find the usual drugs and guns, but also smuggling, including that of humans. There are the winter residents and the year round residents. So much to choose from, all in the warm to hot environment that makes for sultry nights and bright hot days with the occasion hurricane tossed into the mix.
Florida crime writers are far more abundant than I imagined. A remarkable number of names you would know either live in or write about Florida.
Pick a State, Learn the Authors
It has been an intriguing path to several new authors. Try it for yourself. Pick an area and find popular authors to read. A couple of the names included here I would have passed right by, but I enjoyed every one.
In addition, I have grown fonder of the Florida landscape and people. As each author describes the scenes in their novels it is hard to resist. If you get the chance, before you read a book, learn about the author. While it may be particularly true of Florida writers, knowing an author’s background gives you more insight and fondness toward the book itself.
eading a book with that in mind increased my pleasure in each included here. While I usually read for pure entertainment, with these books it was interesting to to get to know the characters plus their relationship to the area.
Their surroundings were often as important as the events in the story. Each included a remarkable amount of knowledge of Florida and her quirks. With all the waterways, I explored canals, the Everglades, tropical oceans, not to mention cabins in the swamp and urban mansions.
The popular authors each write a solid, suspenseful mystery, some darker than others. From hero to serial killer, each was an exciting, page turning read.
Here are my choices, in no particular order other than how I read them. If you have others, I hope you will let me know.
As a former news reporter, it’s no surprise Mr. King is able to write effective crime novels of the area. He’s covered drug busts, human trafficking trials, and some of the terrible family crimes too often committed. It’s given him a wealth of ideas and knowledge to draw on.
Working as a journalist, he didn’t start writing novels until 2000, when he managed to get two months vacation together. He hid out in a cabin for 60 days writing. The result of that brought him an Edgar Award for Best First Novel by an American Author. That was The Blue edge of Midnight.
He is very disciplined as a writer. While he doesn’t necessarily go away alone to an isolated cabin anymore to write, he does still commit to 1400 words a day when writing.
He has always felt stories are built on the people, that is where the novels develop. His books of human drama reflect that. He also enjoys developing his characters slowly, revealing just enough so they have room to grow in future stories. It must be fun for him (as well as us) to see where that leads.
You can read the review of Midnight Guardians here.
Tim Dorsey grew up in Florida, left for a short time, then came back to stay (so far). His knowledge of the area, past and present helps him create such realistic and detailed descriptions in each of his books. Of course his character is purely out of his imagination, we would hope. Serge Storms, serial killer, definitely grabs your attention.
It is often the inspiration of a road trip that starts him on a new story. He looks for an area that appeal, then considers what might happen in that area. With the unique terrain, the variety of people to include, and the sometimes dramatic weather that surrounds him, you can see why he is still creating more in the Serge Storms series. The one reviewed here was number eighteen.
>His character, Serge, makes you laugh. He is so outrageous that one of the most common remarks the author hears is, “I can’t believe I’m laughing at a serial killer.” I did too. A serial killer he is, violent, without remorse. Yet in the book I read (my first so far), he was often removing people who were doing wrong. Not that that makes it right.
You’ll have to read one to get the picture. It shows he does care about some things. He is very loyal to his friends and cares about the underdog. When you add his tendency to kill to his fascination with all thing Florida, he becomes hilarious.
Here’s my review of Shark Skin Suite.
Shark Skin Suite
Grew up in Orange County, reading mysteries. Came to Florida in 1984. She enjoys the quirkiness and variety of Florida and the canals and keys, how you can find a mansion on one side of the street and public housing on the other side.
Compared to housing tracts you find in many areas , the Florida coast offers a more unique setting along with the people living there. And a huge variety there is. The author can draw on bad guys in many forms, though prefers to write something other than the usual drug smuggling.
Human trafficking definitely draws her attention. Writing about causes she believes in, such as protecting children, not only keeps her more enthused, but also connects with readers.
In Seychelle Sullivan, she has created a strong female character. In a position you might not expect to find a woman, her heroine has taken over her father’s salvage boat after his death. Even while strong, Seychelles still carries guilt over her mother’s suicide when she was young.
At the same time I admired her abilities, I had to wonder how she let herself get into many of the situations she finds herself in. She tends to jump right in without planning. Perhaps she will grow out of that as the series moves along. I hope so, because she seems smarter than that!
The review of Surface Tension is here.
Randy Wayne White
Randy Wayne White grew up in rural midwest. That semi-isolated setting led to a love of reading and books. It also led him to a desire to write, to be a part of the magic. After working at a newspaper, then a fishing guide (nearly 3000 charters) for over a dozen years, he wrote his first novel.
Early on in his writing career, he wrote first as Randy Striker and then as Carl Ramm. Some eighteen books later, he wrote Sanibel Flats. Since then Doc Ford has become a well followed, very popular character. This first book in the series holds the honor of one of the “Hundred Favorite Mysteries of the 20th Century” by the
Mr White likes to get to know his characters thoroughly before he begins. Before he began Sanibel Flats, he’d written bios on Doc Ford and Tomlinson both. Bios to the tune of fifty or sixty pages. He still does this for the current characters too, especially the bad guys.Then with each book he reveals a little bit more of each. It not only keeps his characters true as he writes, but it also allows the characters to drive the plot for him.
A Florida resident since 1972, he lives on Pine Island, nearby Sanibel Island. Many of the places and people in his books come from an amalgam of his own locale, friends and acquaintances.
Click here for the review of Sanibel Flats.
James W Hall
James W Hall is a writer or poems, essays, and novels, and a college professor besides. He arrived in Florida his senior year of high school and never wanted to leave. Forty years teaching at Florida International >University show that he achieved that goal for the most part. As an author he has won both the Edgar and Shamus awards.
Currently the popular author has fourteen books in his Thorn series. Thorn, a loner and hermit, teams up with Sugarman, a private detective in the series. In spite of his desire to be left alone, Thorn regularly finds himself involved in the murky side of Florida, attempting to solve a variety of unusual crimes. The Florida setting provides numerous opportunities for that.
Here is the the review of Body Language.
While I’ve yet to read either Edna Buchanan or John D MacDonald, they must be mentioned as two of the most renowned in Florida. Ms. Buchanan lives and writes in the heart of Miami. John MacDonald lived in Florida for years as well.
Edna Buchanan was first called the Queen of Crime by the LA Times. The name stuck, and with good reason. As an award winning journalist for the Miami Herald, she had a wealth of experience to choose from for her novels. It’s reported that she covered over 5,000 deaths, 3000 of which were murders.
In her 18 years with the Herald she won the Pulitzer Prize and the George Polk Award (for Career achievement in journalism). Her first suspense novel, Nobody Lives Forever was published in 1990. Her last one, in 2012, A Dark and Lonely Place
She is known for hard hitting crime stories, effective and frightening murders, and clever police procedurals. Her series with character, reporter Britt Montero, has a very loyal following. Several of her books are now on my list. From what I’ve read, it sounds like a good idea to start with the first in Britt’s series, to get to know her friends and enemies from the start.
It seems fitting that we have a review from another Florida resident for the two reviews included here.
Andrew Royston has reviewed Nobody Lives Forever.
And from Jackie Jackson, here is a review of A Dark and Lonely Place
John D MacDonald
If Edna Buchanan is queen of crime, then John D. MacDonald should qualify for its king. So many crime writers refer to him as their inspiration. Besides Travis McGee and his series, Mr. MacDonald wrote dozens of other suspense novels, some non-fiction, and even science fiction.
Even if you aren’t familiar with his name, you are probably familiar with a movie made from the novel, The Executioner’s, written in 1957. The name of the movie is Cape Fear. First made in 1962, it was remade in 1991.
Still, I imagine his notoriety comes foremost from his twenty-one book, Travis McGee series. The popular character lives on a houseboat named the Busted Flush, a home he won in a poker game. Fans will remember his Fort Lauderdale address of Slip F-18, at the Bahia Mar marina. Called a salvage consultant, he was making his living recovery stolen money and property, keeping half when he did.
The first book in the series is titled The Deep Blue Goodbye. That came out in 1964. His last book was the Lonely Silver Rain, published in 1985, a year before his death. A twenty-one year series.
Violent psychopaths, murderers, and swindlers are well portrayed in his novels, sometimes gruesomely so. His descriptions and narratives show the darker side of the sunny state. As with many current authors today, he incorporated the unusual characters found in Florida into his complicated crime novels.
I’m looking forward to reading the first one soon. It’s interesting to see how a book from that era reads over fifty years later. Classic still, I expect.
More from Andy Royston
These are only a small selection of the Florida authors. You will find one of the most popular, Carl Haaisen. Then more Floridians, Barbara Parker, John Lutz, Nancy Pickard, Tom Corcoran…
The list goes on beyond that. You get the idea. What a wealth of pages they have created for our reading enjoyment. If you want to add any, be sure to leave the names and titles in a comment below.