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Florida Crime Fiction And The New Face Of America

The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik joins us on the seedy, wacky face of Sunshine State crime fiction.

The Miami skyline as seen from Miami Beach. (Stefano Giudici/Flickr)

The Miami skyline as seen from Miami Beach. (Stefano Giudici/Flickr)

Once upon a time, Los Angeles was the American capital of crime fiction, of our dark, moody, noir tales of guns, detectives, blackmail, sleaze, fighting corruption. Think Raymond Chandler. “The Big Sleep.” “Chinatown.” America wrestling with the dark side of Tinsel Town.

Now, says my guest, Adam Gopnik of the New Yorker, our crime fiction capital is Florida — the Sunshine State and the state of the fiction, the crime, is something else. Wacky, seedy, random. And corruption is just presumed.

This hour On Point: Adam Gopnik on America now and the rise of Florida crime fiction.

– Tom Ashbrook


Adam Gopnik, writer for the New Yorker who recently wrote about Florida crime fiction in “In The Back Cabana.” (@adamgopnik)

Oline Cogdill, mystery fiction reviewer who blogs at Mystery Scene. (@OlineCogdill)

From Tom’s Reading List

The New Yorker: In The Back Cabana: The Rise And Rise Of Florida Crime Fiction – “But another line of crime fiction, at the other peninsular end of the country, may have supplanted the L.A.-noir tradition as a paperback mirror of American manners — the fiction of Florida glare. In this genre, as Dave Barry, a late-arriving practitioner, puts it, a bunch of ‘South Florida wackos’ — all heavily armed, all loquacious, all barely aware of one another’s existence — blunder through petty crime, discover themselves engaged in actual murder, and then move in unconscious unison toward the black comedy of a violent climax. This line begins in John D. MacDonald’s color-coded’ books (‘The Dreadful Lemon Sky,’ ‘Free Fall in Crimson’), of the sixties and seventies; moves through Elmore Leonard’s talky, episodic Florida novels of the eighties; engages Barry as a comic outlier; and eventually leads to Carl Hiaasen, the Miami newspaperman who has, for the past few decades, written a new crime novel practically every two years.”

Mystery Scene: Florida Bound? Read A Mystery — “Florida has a rich history of mystery fiction and here are some authors that will show you the intricacies of the Sunshine State…Here are some novels to get you going, whether you listen to them as an audio book or read them.”

Reuters: America Noir: The Biggest ‘Gate’ Of All — “Metaphors function much like art, and you might consider Watergate not as a scandal but as a gigantic movie. Not just any movie blockbuster, either, but as America’s epic noir. Film noir was a genre that began in the late 1940s, when America was forced to confront the darkness within itself after World War II. ‘Film noir’ translates into ‘black film,’ and the noir movies of the time were literally and figuratively dark. They involved corruption, deceit, amorality and the potential rot of the American soul — capturing the anxiety of the Cold War era.”

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  • John_in_Amherst

    Carl Hiaasen has a great line in one of his books in this genre, something to the effect that South Florida is a favorite place for people in witness protection, as just about any type of scumbag can fit in there without being noticed…

  • Jim

    too much Miami Vice…

  • Bigtruck

    Hard to find a better Florida crime read than Killing Mr Watson

  • mumtothree

    I have just discovered the Akashic Noir series of short stories (Boston Noir and Boston Noir 2, both edited by Dennis Lehane), and can’t wait to read the rest, including Miami Noir (http://www.akashicbooks.com/catalog/miami-noir/).

    Also, a few years ago ArtsEmerson ran a Noir film festival at the Paramount in Boston’s downtown crossing.  Would love for them or another indie theater to do that again!

  • BostonDanB

    Delighted you mentioned John D. MacDonald in your intro on this show. Such a great forerunner of this topic. I spent wonderful time when I was 10 or 12 grabbing these books off my parents’ shelves and delving into this rapidly evolving Florida mielue. His social commentary against all that change and larger American evolution beautifully predicted so many issues of today, with a cynical amusement that was still a bit romantic. 

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/JXSANCUDPIKQSPID5KT2U4XK5Y TF

    I had a fine time with Barry’s novel “Big Trouble”. The movie was box-office mistiming, because it was released in the autumn of 2001, but at this distance holds up nicely.

  • Boca Ratso

    Having recently moved to Florida, I can tell you the sleezy-ness is no exaggeration.
    I like to call my new home “The Sun-Slime State.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Elizabeth-Agren/100000026818364 Elizabeth Agren

    Lived there a long time, something about the heat, and steam. I remember chatting with a man at Kinko’s one night in Ft. Lauderdale, said he was a P.I. told me to call him if I needed my boyfriend checked out, this doesn’t happen everywhere.

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/JXSANCUDPIKQSPID5KT2U4XK5Y TF

      Just trying to imagine Bogart as Sam Spade in a Kinkos. Who was waiting on you, Sidney Greenstreet?

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/JXSANCUDPIKQSPID5KT2U4XK5Y TF

    Land scams? From the state which gave us:

    “Eight hundred beautiful acres! You can have any kind of a home you want. You can even get stucco…Oh, how you can get stucco!”

  • Boca Ratso

    Politics..Behind closed doors in Fla-
    How perfect that Mitt Romney’s 47% video took place in Boca Raton….

  • Crest Villa

    Speaking of ironies, the Mafia crime boss of south Florida (Tampa, St. Petersburg) for many years was a guy named Traficante. You get three guesses what he was trafficking and all three would likely be right.

    • Robert Berube

      Girls, booze, and drugs?

      • Crest Villa

         Gambling (the very lucrative numbers game where the poorest were aficionados) was his forte. I would not rule out prostitution. He was allegedly against drugs like Don Corleone. But I wouldn’t put it past him.

  • Maryum

    Florida isn’t a melting pot, it’s a fruit salad.

  • Lorin Duckman

    not going to call again. you wasted my time. then I felt you cut me out because i had nothing to say. read a lot of noir books. seen a lot of noir films. represented one of the defendants in a major Florida pot case. so, some writer who covers mystery novels pushed me off. didn’t think much about the people who got to speak, especially when Tom asked for more callins after I was cut. and, you never answered my question about why, if the stories from florida have so much bite and humor, no one has started a series of movies of the books.

    have given up tom. still considering giving up adam.

  • Glenn Howard

    I recommend a book which I see as the ur-text of Florida noir. It is To Have and Have Not by Errnest Hemingway.It tells a harsh tale of desperate people, desperate deeds and lengthening shadows. Many of the subsequent books are quite good. But this one is the best of all.

  • 1JMBoyar1

    Well, I’ve lived in New York and I’ve lived in Florida, and I’ve seen wackier, seedier and more bizarre things on the streets of New York EVERY DAMN DAY than I’ve ever seen anywhere in Florida. I think Florida writers like Dave Barry and Carl Hiaasen collaborate in this wacky view of Florida because it gives them a hook in the national media. Just sayin’.

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