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Reading Florida

I once lived on a boat, sailed into Fort Lauderdale and stayed there for 15 years. I didn’t live at the Bahia Mar Marina like John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee, but rather up the north fork of Fort Lauderdale’s New River. That’s when I renewed a love affair with books, especially mysteries, set in Florida.

The love affair actually began when I was a child and picked up at school a children’s book called The Lion’s Paw. It was written by Robb White and was set in Florida just after World War II. The story takes three orphans on a sailboat down the east coast of Florida and across the state to the west coast and Sanibel Island. They hope to find a shell called the lion’s paw, which they believe will bring home the MIA father of one of the orphans. The descriptions of white oyster shell roads and swamps are familiar to those of us who’ve explored the back roads and woods of Florida. I loved the book as a child and through a rare book search, found the original paperback and a later reprint several years ago.

What is more hilarious than a mystery by Carl Hiaasen? His characters, like the roadkill-eating ex-governor, are weird, but no weirder than many of the people I actually met in South Florida. The settings, whether Miami , the Keys, or the Everglades, reek of South Florida craziness. Then he throws in a man-eating alligator or a bass tournament. He nails South Florida. Now that I live in Maryland, his stories make me homesick.

Once in a while, I pick up one of my favorite books of short stories, the Crunch & Des fishing tales from the 30s and 40s. Written by Philip Wylie, another Miami author, they reflect an old Miami that no longer exists. Crunch is a charter boat captain and Des is his first mate. The stories describe the ups and downs of sports fishing in enjoyable stories originally published by the

They evoke memories because I grew up in Miami at a time when my mother could send me, a small child, to downtown Miami alone on a bus for piano lessons. I also remember going with my father down to the piers where the sports fishing boats came in. Seeing the huge fish strung up for photos was awesome, but I was drawn to the kiosks lined up on the pier and their displays of jars containing strange sea creatures like octopi.

I also enjoy fellow Sisters in Crime member Elaine Viets whose light, cozy mysteries are set in the Fort Lauderdale area.

If you prefer the west coast of Florida, there’s Randy Wayne White’s Doc Ford mysteries set on Sanibel Island.

Being a mystery reader and writer, I’ve only touched on mysteries and a couple of other books that interested me, but you can go to Amazon and search for Florida mysteries and thrillers. You’ll find a slew of them there.

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