Key West, which sells itself as a sunny resort, is taking a detour into the Dark Side. Over the next two weekends, the Key West Literary Seminar will examine mystery, crime, and the literary thriller with a line-up that includes Gillian Flynn, Lee Child, Carl Hiaasen, Scott Turow, Alexander McCall Smith and many more. Both sessions are sold out, but on the next two Sundays there are programs that are free and open to the public.
As the enthusiastic registration for this year’s Seminar shows, readers have a strong fascination and—odd as it is—fondness for stories about murder and violence and deception. Those topics are as old as human history and certainly of literature—according to the book of Genesis it only took two generations of humans before murder entered the picture and it was a fratricide at that. The myths of every culture are full of violence and drama, as full of those elements as our own history, the pages of our daily newspaper, and the popular entertainments that occupy our film and television screens. Not to mention, of course, our reading. These books are often described as mysteries, and that may mean a puzzle to be solved, a perpetrator to be caught. But a mystery can also be a much bigger question, almost a spiritual question about the search for motive and meaning in human life, as expressed through our actions and their occasionally catastrophic consequences. As much as we might wish otherwise in our more enlightened moments and insulate ourselves in our daily lives, this interest in the dark side seems to be in our DNA. We are, on a fundamental level, fascinated with transgression.
Key West seems like a particularly appropriate setting for this exploration. This small but legendary island has has been the setting for so many stories from Don Balasco of Key West in 1896 to Carl Hiaasen’s Bad Monkey, published last year. In between we had Hemingway and his tales of desperation and violence in To Have and Have Not, his only novel set in the U.S. We had Thomas McGuane creating homicidal fishing guides in 92 in the Shade. We even had some real-life episodes that would defy belief, even in a Hiaasen novel—like the German émigré radiologist in the 1930s who fell desperately in love with a tubercular young Cuban girl—so desperate that after she died he stole her body from the crypt and kept it in his homemade plane fuselage on the beach. He gave himself the title of Count Von Cosel and played organ music for his love, whom he was convinced awoke, spoke to him and would fly with him to the moon. When her semi-preserved body was discovered—SEVEN YEARS LATER—Key Westers were shocked—but made sure to put the waxy remains on display at the funeral home for a public wake that everyone in town attended. Including the kids. Von Cosel didn’t even face criminal charges—the statute of limitations on grave robbing had expired and they couldn’t figure out anything else to charge him with. This tale is an extreme example of the ethos that gives our island its refreshingly non-judgmental attitude—an attitude that lets things get far enough out of hand that historically the feds have had to descend once a decade or so to issue some indictments and restore some semblance of respect for outside authority. It can be disconcerting, certainly, but it’s also kind of fun to live in a place that elects the local strip-club owner to the city commission and celebrates one local guy’s elaborate Christmas display made entirely out of vodka bottles. The most popular website in town has to be the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office arrest log, which features mugshots, charges, and an entertaining array of occupations. In the last month, that page received more than nine hundred and fifty thousand hits—and this is a county with fewer than eighty thousand residents. As one friend of mine told me about Key West, “we don’t care what you do. We just want to know about it.”
Nancy Klingener is secretary of the Key West Literary Seminar and works at the Monroe County Public Library in Key West. She reviews books for the Miami Herald, and contributes the “Letter From Key West” to WLRN, South Florida’s NPR station.
Last-minute preparations are underway for Chapter One of The Dark Side: Mystery, Crime, and the Literary Thriller. It all kicks off at the historic San Carlos Institute on Thursday night with Sara Paretsky’s keynote address, “My Quest for Heroes: Voice and Voicelessness.”
The full schedule of events is here. All ticketed sessions this weekend and next are completely sold out, but admission is available on a first-come, first-seated basis to the free public sessions this Sunday, January 12, and next Sunday, January 19. Click here for the schedule of free events.
We’ll be posting photos and commentary throughout the weekend right here on Littoral, with guest posts from Cara Cannella and Nick Vagnoni and photographs by Nick Doll. And we’ll be abuzz and up-to-the-minute on Twitter @KeyWestLiterary as well as on Facebook. Please follow along and chime in, whether you’re here, near, or far.
Lyndsay Faye is the author of three inventive, intriguing, and carefully researched novels that interweave fiction, the historical record, and popular culture. Her debut novel Dust and Shadow: an Account of the Ripper Killings by Dr. John H Watson is a tribute to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s archetypal detective hero, Sherlock Holmes, and follows his attempt to solve the real-life killings of Jack the Ripper. In The Gods of Gotham and its sequel Seven for a Secret, Faye tracks the development of the New York City Police Department in the 1840s through the eyes of bartender-turned-lawman Timothy Wilde.
This interview with KWLS board member Nancy Klingener took place over email during the past few months. In it, Faye and Klingener discuss the parallels between acting and writing, the joys and sufferings of historical research, and the appeal of characters both fictional and real. Along the way they rank love over crime, adventure over mystery, and we learn a few secrets of Faye’s forthcoming novel, the third and—spoiler alert—final installment of the Timothy Wilde series. (Editor)
Nancy Klingener: I guess I’ll start out by asking how you came to writing, generally, and writing crime fiction specifically. You started out as an actress, right? There are obvious similarities in the work—you’re dealing with words and portraying characters, many of them fictional. Do you find them to be similar jobs? How do they differ?
Lyndsay Faye: Interesting question. Well, as is the case universally, I came to reading before anything else. It’s impossible to come to writing without owning a deep admiration for some story or other, and I was bullying my little brother into staged plays I’d written when we were quite young—dressing him in khakis and gluing cotton balls to his chest and declaring him Mr. Tumnus from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, that sort of thing. My parents were big into reading to us, big into storytelling. I’m very lucky I grew up in that environment. I can’t recall a time when I wasn’t around tales of high adventure.
Being trained as an actress was extremely useful to me as a novelist, and on a macroscopic level they’re exceedingly similar while on the microscopic level they’re as different as creatively possible. In the broad scope, skills I learned—mimicry, attention to detail, a feel for dialogue, sense of dramatic tension, importance of mood, the value of making specific and detailed choices, how crucial it is to create the strongest emotional dilemmas possible for your characters, I could go on all day really, all that’s quite similar. Conversely, on a small scale, theater is a collaborative process. It’s all about interaction. When I’m sitting at my laptop, it’s just me and the nutters in my head. Not to de-emphasize the roles of my agent or editor at all, but the manuscript, that’s all on me, baby. It’s extremely solitary, especially by comparison.
NK: How did you move from acting to writing? Had you been writing all along or did you make a decision to focus on writing instead of performance?
LF: None of this was planned. My career is perennially a surprise when I wake up in the morning. I hadn’t been writing at all—auditioning in New York City is simply very, very difficult. I wasn’t smart enough to create my own work, to do showcases or write cabaret acts for myself. I just kept marching into hallways where there were dozens of me. After a while, I felt as if I lacked autonomy over my career entirely. Of course, I’m still proud of how far I made it, still pay my Actor’s Equity dues every six months. But I didn’t have the drive—I can still be happy without being on stage, telling tales in another way, and some folks can’t.
There wasn’t any conscious decision to focus on writing either, certainly never ever ever as a career. My first novel is a Sherlock Holmes pastiche, and it was an unabashedly dark rip-roaring fanfiction pitting him against Jack the Ripper with scads of the true-crime elements incorporated. I thought maybe a Sherlockian small press might pick it up, or lacking that avenue I could publish it as an e-book for my own gratification. No one was more shocked than myself when I found a talented agent and was published by Simon and Schuster. And I mean no one.
NK: I want to get back to Sherlock and Dust & Shadow but first I’d like to ask about your own creation, Timothy Wilde, the protagonist in your most recent two books The Gods of Gotham and Seven For A Secret—and I hope many more in the future. Where did Timothy come from, and did you start with him, or the setting, or perhaps with George Washington Matsell, who really was New York’s first police commissioner and who appears as a character in those two novels?
LF: Thank you! Timothy came from an abstract concept, which was day one, cop one of the New York Police Department. It’s such an infamous law enforcement body, known the world over, and I simply wanted to see what this group of ragtag men looked like who were meant to defend the populace, but before they had any notion of what they were doing. I wanted the first day of school, not Civil War-Era or Roosevelt reform. Michael Chabon says we write fiction to fill in the gaps in the map a la Heart of Darkness, and I think that’s entirely true—I’d read fantastic books about the NYPD during other time periods, but never about their mythical beginnings. Beginnings are powerful stuff. So research into the world of 1845 New York all began with my wanting to know the NYPD’s origins. If the force had been founded in 1826 or in 1852, The Gods of Gotham would have had a different plot line, and it would have taken place in 1826 or 1852.
The rest of Tim came out of a combination of research and personal experience, as I think any historical character does. I write fairly unabashed hero stories, so I needed Timothy to be his own moral compass—that meant he wasn’t a Tammany insider, and thus needed an older sibling to get him on the copper-star force, who were entirely complicit with the Democratic Party’s agenda. That also meant he resembled some of the contemporary radical abolitionists I researched. Every investigator is indebted to Sherlock Holmes, so to draw a strong line between them, Tim wears his heart on his sleeve and finds his own police work much less competent than it actually is. He’s sympathetic and self-deprecating. I needed him to be observant, and I worked in restaurants for years, so he’s a former bartender. I borrowed his face from a musical theatre friend. He hates city fountains that don’t work because I hate fountains that don’t work. He’s passionately verbose because he’s a 19th-century diarist and I’ll never be able to get away with this sort of language again, so I’m wallowing in it.
You mention Matsell, whom I adore, and who really was a fascinating human. During his time, he was thought everything from a Tammany bully to a liberal reformer. He was both, of course, but he did the unthinkable—he actually created a competent standing police force. It was unprecedented. Every other effort had failed miserably.
NK: When you researched that time period, was that when you learned about the stresses that Irish immigration was placing on America in general and New York City in particular? How did that issue come to drive the plot of The Gods of Gotham? Also, how did you conduct the research—was it going to the library and looking at microfilms of old newspapers? Reading books? Digging up other kinds of primary sources? Did you read novels and plays of that period? Or listen to music? And how did you resist going down the research rabbit hole? It can be so seductive, to just follow one more thread, check on one more connection or look for one more account of a person, event, place, or time.
LF: Yes, when I discovered that the Great Irish Famine landed the same year the NYPD was founded, my mind was blown. Here was a cataclysm begging to be novelized, and one I’d not seen approached from the police department’s perspective before. The Gods of Gotham quickly became a book that encompassed Catholic persecution, civil unrest and economic disparity, fighting for religious freedom in the land of the free. Unfortunately, the topic is still quite relevant—most of the truly hostile arguments against Mexican and Muslim Americans are couched in perfectly interchangeable phrases to those lobbed at the Papists. Modern day scrapping and partisan politics lend my books some immediacy, I hope, because we have a lot to learn from past mistakes.
My research period lasts for six months and is altogether omnivorous, though I vastly prefer primary sources once I have a grasp of the general situation. Old police documents, diaries, plays, travel guides, menus, housekeeping tomes, obviously Matsell’s slang dictionary Vocabulum, Or the Rogue’s Lexicon. I read the Herald newspaper on microfilm pretty much back to front for whatever year I’m covering, which gives me current events, editorials, economics, anecdotes, politics, satire, and advertisements all at once. I probably wouldn’t be writing about New York if I didn’t live here, but the richness of resources I have at my disposal between the Bryant Park Research Library, the New York Historical Society, the smaller museums—I’m like Scrooge McDuck in a swimming pool full of gold.
That being said, falling down the research rabbit hole isn’t an issue for me at all. I have plenty of other issues, but after six months in a microfilm department, I’m desperately tired of it and my fingers are itchy to tell stories. Besides that, I have a hard-and-fast historical fiction rule: if your protagonist doesn’t care, leave the fact out. I don’t care how nifty the fact is. That comes of being an actor, actually. It’s about character specificity. Tim Wilde does not go on and on about architecture, popular music, advances in the sciences (unless they’re directly relevant), how much silverware is set for a proper tea, who his favorite actors are, what the Astors are up to. A fact needs to make it into your narrator’s consciousness before it makes it onto your page. He’s interested in the street life of New Yorkers and how they treat each other and manage to survive. So that’s what he sees.
NK: When I read “The Gods of Gotham,” I was so struck by the epigraphs at the beginning of each chapter—quotations from various publications of Protestants deploring the Irish Catholic immigration in shockingly blunt language. I suspected they were authentic but they sounded almost too emblematic to be real. How did you decide to start using those and did you collect them along the way or go back and hunt them down when you were writing the novel?
LF: Yes, those are all absolutely word-for-word real. I actually recorded them as I discovered them because I couldn’t believe the contents myself. I don’t want to convey the impression that I write social justice novels, I don’t even really write crime novels exactly, I write novels about love and heroism and revenge and self-sacrifice, but certainly politics and prejudice play major roles, and those quotes under each chapter title seemed essential to me.
See, I can easily do the research and write a semi-fictional character who says, for example, “All the persecutions which the true church has suffered from Pagans, Jews, and all the world beside are nothing compared with what it has endured from that unrelenting murderer of men, the Pope.” And people will read that and say, all right, that’s certainly a narrow view, but the author is surely exaggerating for dramatic effect. But if I quote that passage from a speech made by the Orange Country Reformation Society in 1843, and they actually did say that—which they did—the reader automatically understands that these opinions, while grotesquely extreme, did exist. And what’s nuts is I have buckets of these quotes in reserve. Narrowing down the pithiest is much harder than finding them.
NK: What do you mean you don’t write crime novels? Or social justice novels, since issues of social justice figure so largely in the plots of the Timothy Wilde stories? Do you see yourself as fitting within a tradition/genre, or blending such, or doing your own thing entirely?
LF: What I mean is that there are some crime novels—brilliant ones, ones I devour like Thai spiced potato chips—in which the crime is the star of the show. These books, I can’t help but surmise, are written by people who are far cleverer than I am. Take for example Agatha Christie’s tour-de-force The. A. B. C. Murders. Now, when I picked that book up as a teen, it mesmerized me. I could never have written it myself. A serial killer by all appearances is offing people whose first and last names each begin with the same letter as the name of the town they live in, as I recall. Simple enough premise, but my god. The points of view shift enough to keep T. S. Eliot happy, the writing is sublime, the characterization pinpoint-exact. When I reached the solution after practically snapping the book’s spine, I was blown away by the ingenuity of the clues and of the plotting. (more…)
“The Dark Side: Mystery, Crime, and the Literary Thriller” will unfold over the course of two independent sessions. Highlights of Chapter One (January 9-12, 2014) include the opening-night keynote address by V.I. Warshawski creator Sara Paretsky, entitled “My Quest for Heroes: Voice and Voicelessness.” Day Two features such powerhouse writers as Gone Girl author and #1 bestseller Gillian Flynn, National Book Award winner Joyce Carol Oates, and sci-fi icon William Gibson, concluding with a marquee evening performance by the best-selling novelist and journalist Carl Hiaasen entitled “The Florida Freak Show.” Day Three presents readings by international bestsellers Val McDermid and Alexander McCall Smith (No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency); panel discussions with South Florida crime-fiction pioneers James W. Hall and Les Standiford; a conversation with attorney-novelists Scott Turow and Stephen L. Carter; and National Book Award winner Robert Stone reading from his brand-new novel, Death of the Black-Haired Girl. The final day features rising stars of crime fiction Attica Locke and Megan Abbott, as well as a free-and-open-to-the-public session with former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins, who returns to the stage with Alexander McCall Smith, William Gibson, and Gillian Flynn.
The Final Chapter kicks off on Thursday, January 16, 2014, and runs through Sunday, January 19. Keynote honors go to Elizabeth George, the acclaimed author of the Inspector Lynley series. Perennial #1 bestsellers Lee Child and Michael Connelly headline Friday’s events along with Mysterious Press publisher, bookseller, and Edgar Allan Poe Award winner Otto Penzler. They’re joined by law professor and If You Were Here author Alafair Burke, poet and genre-jumper Percival Everett, and Lisa Unger, whose bestselling novels have been translated into twenty-six languages and sold more than 1.5 million copies around the globe. Friday concludes as Booker Prize-winning Irish novelist John Banville appears for a special evening event “in conversation” with his crime-writing alter ego, Benjamin Black. Saturday’s lineup features Lyndsay Faye, whose historical crime-fiction novels include The Gods of Gotham; #1 bestseller Michael Koryta (The Prophet); and Sara Gran, creator of the internationally acclaimed series featuring Claire DeWitt. Sunday morning’s program presents Australian novelist Malla Nunn (Blessed Are the Dead, Let the Dead Lie) and international bestseller Tess Gerritsen, while the free afternoon program includes back-to-back Anthony Award winner William Kent Krueger along with Lee Child, John Banville, and Billy Collins.
There are still a few spaces available to register for the Final Chapter. Chapter One is full. The general public is invited to attend free sessions at the San Carlos Institute, 516 Duval Street, on Sunday January 9, from 2:00-4:00 and again on the following Sunday, January 16, from 2:00-4:15. Seating is first-come first-served.
Only two weeks remain to apply for our awards for emerging writers.
Presented annually, the Joyce Horton Johnson Fiction Award, Scotti Merrill Memorial Award, and Marianne Russo Award recognize emerging writers of exceptional merit. Past winners include fiction writers Patricia Engel, Nami Mun, and Kristen-Paige Madonia; and poets George Green and Brynn Saito.
This year’s award winners will receive full tuition to our January seminar and workshop program, round-trip airfare to and from Key West, seven nights’ lodging, financial support for living expenses while in Key West, and the opportunity to appear on stage during the Seminar.
The deadline is September 30. Complete details are here.
We note the passing, last month, of Elmore Leonard, acknowledged master of crime fiction and one of the most influential writers of his time. He was 87.
Leonard joined us in Key West twenty-five years ago for the 1988 Seminar, “Whodunit? The Art & Tradition of Mystery Literature.” It was our first foray into crime fiction and Dutch, as Leonard’s friends knew him, was quick to call attention to the oversimplification of his work implied by so-called mystery writing. “I’ve come to accept,” Leonard wrote to program coordinator Les Standiford in the letter included here, “that what I do lies somewhere in the ‘mystery’ field, though there is seldom a mystery as to what’s going on in my plot or who done it—if in fact it’s even done. But I do deal with crime and that’s what we’re talking about really: works in which crime motivates the plot.”
Leonard’s career had taken off in the early 1980s as Hollywood producers discovered the lucrative potential for screen adaptations of his work. But his relationship with Hollywood was an uneasy one. “Dealing with Hollywood can be fun—” Leonard cracked, in preparatory notes for a KWLS panel discussion entitled “Mystery Literature and Adaptation into Film,” “’til you write the first draft. My advice: Refuse to be picked up at the airport in a limo. Otherwise, if you walk out of the meeting you won’t have any transportation.”
Speaking onstage at the seminar with novelist Donald Westlake and film critics Sheila Benson and Richard P. Sugg, Leonard went into more detail on the aesthetic compromises that working in Hollwood required. “The major mistake that producers make,” said the novelist, whose gritty realism earned him a reputation as “the Dickens of Detroit,” “is to cast stars in the role of characters who were never written as stars and were never meant to be stars.”
Leonard continued to create work for television and film throughout his life. But he’ll be remembered as a writer of books, a humbler form that better withstands the mutability of fashion and popular culture. “I’d like to write a good screenplay, but I’m not sure I ever will,” Leonard told us in 1988, with a touch of longing. “But that’s o.k., because honestly, I get lots of satisfaction—actually I get all my satisfaction—out of writing books.”
We are very happy to announce that Daniel Menaker will rejoin our writers’ workshop faculty for January 2014. This brings the number of courses in our 2014 Writers’ Workshop Program to ten, our broadest offering yet.
Menaker’s “The Art of Comic Writing” will cover humor in writing in all its forms, with a concentration on short comic pieces along the lines of the New Yorker’s Shouts and Murmurs column. Menaker’s unique high/low approach to comic writing will examine humor in such classic literary works as Moby Dick and Pride and Prejudice, while also incorporating video from The Daily Show with John Stewart, and considering the work of such comedians as Richard Pryor and Chris Rock.
The workshop is open to all levels and requires no advance submission. Click here for more details.
Menaker worked as an editor and writer for 26 years at the New Yorker, and has contributed fiction and humor and essays and journalism to Harper’s, the Atlantic, the New York Times Magazine, and many other publications. The former Executive Editor-in-Chief at Random House and an O. Henry Award-winner, he is the author of six books, two of them New York Times notable titles. Menaker’s memoir, My Mistake, will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in November of 2013.
Following on yesterday’s announcement that Sara Paretsky will deliver the keynote address for “Chapter One,” we are thrilled to announce that Elizabeth George will have keynote honors for the “Final Chapter” of the 2014 Key West Literary Seminar: The Dark Side.
George is the acclaimed author of the Inspector Lynley series, which continues in October 2013 with its eighteenth installment, Just One Evil Act. Her 1988 debut, A Great Deliverance, earned a rare triple crown in the mystery world, winning both the Anthony and Agatha awards for best first novel along with France’s Le Grand Prix de Literature Policiere. Most of George’s Inspector Lynley mysteries, which are set in the U.K., have been produced for television by the BBC and are broadcast in the U.S. on PBS’s Masterpiece. She has been called “a superstar of the crime-fiction world” whose “devilishly complicated” novels “reveal the sad spectrum of human dereliction.”
A former high school teacher, George left education when she sold her first novel. In 2000, she founded the Elizabeth George Foundation, which provides emerging writers with up to one year of funding for living expenses so that they can have an opportunity to succeed.
George will deliver the John Hersey Memorial Address to begin “The Final Chapter” of the Dark Side on Thursday, January 16, 2014. There is still time to register for this session, where George will be joined by celebrated authors including John Banville (aka Benjamin Black), Lee Child, Michael Connelly, Lyndsay Faye, Tess Gerritsen, Sue Grafton, and Sara Gran.
Paretsky revolutionized crime writing in 1982 when she introduced private investigator V.I. Warshawski in Indemnity Only. By creating a female investigator with the grit and smarts to tackle problems on the mean Chicago streets, Paretsky challenged a genre in which women’s roles had been limited to vamps or victims. Fifteen more novels, including the 2012 Breakdown, have tracked the exploits of Warshawski, whose passion for social justice reflects Paretsky’s own.
Beyond the literary world, Paretsky has earned acclaim for her impassioned social advocacy, supporting organizations that promote literacy and reproductive rights, fighting on behalf of the mentally ill homeless, and drawing attention to the growing wealth gap through the Occupy movement.
Her awards have included the Cartier Diamond Dagger and Gold Dagger from the U.K.’s Crime Writers Association and she was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle award for her 2007 memoir, Writing in an Age of Silence.
Paretsky will deliver the John Hersey Memorial Address to begin “Chapter One” of the Dark Side on Thursday, January 9, 2014. She will be joined at the sold-out first session by celebrated authors including Megan Abbott, Gillian Flynn, William Gibson, Carl Hiaasen, Joyce Carol Oates, Alexander McCall Smith, and Scott Turow.
Fewer than thirteen days remain to meet the priority deadline for applications to our Scholarship Program.
Teachers, librarians, and writers who would not otherwise be able to attend the seminar and/or writers’ workshop program are urged to apply now for financial assistance. We are looking for applicants whose professional roles and personal skills allow them to have a positive impact upon readers of all ages; and for emerging writers committed to improving their craft among our literary community in Key West.
Dynamic writers who possess the voice, skill, and poise to succeed at the national level are also urged to apply for one of our named awards. Winners of the Joyce Horton Johnson Fiction Award, the Scotti Merrill Memorial Award, and the Marianne Russo Award receive full tuition to our January seminar and workshop program, round-trip airfare, seven nights’ lodging, financial support for living expenses while in Key West, and the opportunity to appear on stage during the Seminar.
All financial assistance applications received by the priority deadline of June 30 will receive equal consideration. Thereafter, applications will be considered on a rolling basis until funds/space are depleted. Award applicants interested in financial assistance as a ‘backup plan’ are also urged to apply by the priority deadline of June 30.
The KWLS Scholarship Program aims to nourish a vibrant literary culture by providing support to teachers and librarians while promoting the work of new voices in American literature. We are enormously grateful to Judy Blume’s KIDS Fund; Joyce Horton Johnson; Holly Merrill and the Dogwood Foundation; and Peyton Evans and the Rodel Foundation. Thanks to their generosity we have provided support to more than 275 individuals with nearly $250,000 in fee waivers and lodging and travel assistance.
The New Yorker‘s annual summer fiction issue features a brilliant article by Adam Gopnik on the current ‘state’ of crime fiction—the focus of our forthcoming seminar, “The Dark Side”—and what it reveals about the transformations in American life.
In “The Back Cabana: The rise and rise of Florida crime fiction,” Gopnik discusses the roots of the crime genre in the canonical California-noir books of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Ross Macdonald. “But another line of crime fiction,” Gopnik argues, “may have supplanted the L.A.-noir tradition as a paperback mirror of American manners—the fiction of Florida glare.”
Gopnik draws the line of influence in Florida Glare from John D. MacDonald, whose hero Travis McGee fought crime from a houseboat on the Intracoastal, to Elmore Leonard and practitioners including James W. Hall and Carl Hiaasen. Much of the piece focuses on Hiaasen, Florida Glare’s reigning king, who “has a constant sense of how easily brutality and ineptitude and inconsequence flow together.”
The crux of Gopnik’s point is that the relatively orderly world that gave birth to California noir has dissolved in our current state of affairs. “In L.A. noir, the essential fear is of corruption—the system is fake. In Florida glare, corruption is taken for granted. The thing to fear is chance.” In Hiaasen’s world and in ours, “nothing connects, but everything coincides.” “You find no balanced ‘Double Indemnity’-like sense of sin and nemesis, just reality-show surrealism that goes on and on until someone dies, or turns the set off.”
If you’re not a New Yorker subscriber, you can listen to Gopnik discussing Florida Glare with Tom Ashbrook on the radio program “On Point.” You can also listen to Gopnik in our Audio Archives; his 2011 keynote address—“Rituals of Taste”— is classic Gopnik, a tour-de-force disquisition on how our “taste” for food is intertwined with our “taste” for the arts, literature, fashion, and politics. And you can see Carl Hiaasen and James W. Hall, along with top crime writers from all over the country, at our 32nd annual Key West Literary Seminar—”The Dark Side.”