Tthank God for the books.
It’s a sentiment we would share anytime, but especially now, after weeks of coronavirus updates, economic uncertainty, social distancing and isolation, and the closure of some of our favorite haunts. A good book can temporarily take you away from it all, putting you in an alternate reality, a different world. So while we’re on the topic, how about checking out (maybe not in your library, if it’s closed, but try ordering from a store, like Bookstore1, to help support local businesses) some of those books, all related to Sarasota and written by authors who lived here?
Filled with crime, history, humor, and Florida flavors, these books span decades and genres, but they all give us a glimpse of this place we call home. Whether you are a newcomer or a regular here, they are worth a visit.
Our list of books
Condominium, by John D. MacDonald, published in 1977
Of course, we start the list with a novel by one of our best-known authors, who wrote the Travis McGee series about a “rescue consultant” who also sees himself as a knight in rusty armor. But Condominium, a non-McGee novel, stands on its own as an archetype of stories about greedy developers, hidden wins, dirty secrets, condominium board associations and, ultimately, the very big storm, described in heart-pounding prose, that will wipe out the ill-built Golden Sands on Fiddler Key (read: Siesta Key, where MacDonald lived.) No less a Florida writer than Carl Hiaasen says of MacDonald he was ” the first modern writer to nail Florida dead-center, to capture all of its languid sordidness, racy sense of promise, and breathtaking beauty. Yeah.
A flash of green, by John D. MacDonald, published in 1962
Long before Condominium, and before Travis McGee’s books, MacDonald wrote this candid story of a reporter from “Palm Bay”, Florida, who finds himself caught between a corrupt County Commissioner and the widow of a friend, who is part of ‘a group trying to save a berry from … you guessed it, another greedy developer. (Think Bird Key, enlarged by dredging and filling operations in the late 1950s; MacDonald even calls the SOB group Save Our Bays, based on a real citizen group.) Filmed here in 1984 with Ed Harris as journalist, Blair Brown as widow and Richard Jordan as commissioner, A flash of green is a title more referring to that occasional brief flash seen at sunset; it is also the color of money.
Matthew Hope’s books, by Ed McBain, published from 1978 to 1998
The prolific McBain (or Evan Hunter, as he was known here) is perhaps best known for his 87th Police Station police proceedings taking place in the fictional town of Isola (based on Manhattan). But as a part-time resident of Sarasota for many years, he also wrote 13 books set in “Calusa,” featuring attorney Matthew Hope, who continues to be involved in the cases his partner wants. let him not. Each book has a name related to fairy tales, including Goldilocks, Jack and the Beanstalk, Puss in Boots, The House That Jack Built and more. Hunter changed the names and descriptions slightly (John Ringling Ca ‘d’Zan Mansion is renamed Ca’ d’Ped in a book, for example), but for any resident of Sarasota the hints are clear.
Lew Fonesca’s books, by Stuart Kaminsky, published from 1999 to 2009
Kaminsky was another prolific writer with several series, starring cops or private investigators from Hollywood to Chicago to Moscow. (He also wrote the screenplay for the crime scene Once Upon a Time in America). Fonesca’s novels focus on a downed process server traveling from Cook County, Ill. To the Florida Keys (after his wife died in an unsolved hit-and-run) when his car breaks down in Sarasota. So he moved into an office of the Dairy Queen (now sadly demolished) on Washington Boulevard, making ends meet in investigative work for lawyers involving bail jumpers and lost women. Lew is a little sad, but he cares about the people he meets at his job, and Kaminsky sprinkles the places and atmosphere of Sarasota.
Key to the Duma, by Stephen King, published in 2008
This book by horror master King reached number one on the New York Times bestseller list when it was published; it’s his first novel set in Florida, where he has a seasonal home on Casey Key. And he makes good use of the setting in a chilling story involving Minnesota building contractor Edgar Freemantle, who suffers serious injuries that alter his speech, vision, and memory. In the throes of a divorce, he heads to a beach house on the island of Duma Key, inhabited, among others, by an octogenarian heiress who is terminally ill with dementia. He feverishly begins creating works of art linked to mysterious maritime and maritime incidents of the past, and even holds an art exhibition at an upscale Sarasota gallery generating half a million sales (a figure most of which merchants here can only dream). But, as you might expect, things take a serious turn down as an evil force and a ship of damned souls destroy the peace and quiet that an island in Florida is meant to offer.
Final argument, by Clifford Irving, published in 1993
Of course, you all know Irving from Howard Hughes’ famous autobiographical hoax of the 1970s that briefly sent him to jail. But before and after that, Irving was a serious writer with a string of books to his name, and he spent his final years in Sarasota. That’s where he placed some of the action in this novel focused on lawyer Ted Jaffe, who years earlier as a district attorney helped convict an innocent man of murder. Now that this man is on the verge of death, and Jaffe, haunted by guilt (he had an affair with the murder victim’s wife, Natch), is putting his career, his marriage and even his own safety at risk for save the life of the prisoner. Jaffe is a criminal lawyer with a conscience; and that ?
No sunscreen for the dead, by Tim Dorsey, published in 2019
If you’ve never read any of Dorsey’s 20+ books of Serge Storms (Storms is a self-defense serial killer, but he always chooses people who deserve to die for their sins, then, you know, it’s okay. , and it’s often hilarious), you really should. The series began with Florida Road Kill in 1999 and several of the books feature locations from the Sarasota area, including the beloved Bahi Hut and Crescent Club bars and the wilds of Myakka River State Park (the latter at Electric Barracuda) . But Dorsey, a former Sarasota County reporter for the Tampa Tribune who once lived behind the Dairy Queen here (take that, Lew Fonesca), set up Sunscreen almost entirely in Sarasota, featuring locals at a trailer park for retirees, many of whom are veterans. Perhaps surprisingly, Serge clicks with them.
Walker Evans: Florida, published in 2000
Our own Mr. Chatterbox, aka Bob Plunket, wrote the text to accompany the images by famous photographer Evans, who did visuals of Depression-era Americans in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (with James Agee) . In 1942, former UPI leader Karl Bickel, living in Sarasota, was working on a Gulf region story, The Mangrove Coast (which is also worth seeing for its account of the life of Indian tribes and Spanish invaders. ) and invited Evans to take the photos for her during a six-week visit here. The 52 images included in Walker Evans’ Florida aren’t sunny, seaside postcard images, but feature decaying architecture, street scenes, retirees, wagons, and Ringling Bros. animals. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.
Edge of the desert (1983) and Sarasota: Journey to the Centennial (1989), both by Janet Snyder Matthews
If you are new to the area and think the Sarasota area only came to life after WWII, boy, you are wrong. Local historian Matthews fills both books with details and characters that bring the past to life. In the first, she examines the history of the colonization of the Manatee River and Sarasota Bay from 1528 to 1885; in the second, she provides “an entertaining, illustrated commentary on the growth and development of Sarasota, Florida” – the book’s long subtitle – tracing our history from those pioneers who founded our beautiful city amidst the hardships of the times. mosquitoes, hurricanes and more to the small town it became just 30 years ago. Time for a sequel?
The epitome of Sarasota; Sarasota: a story; Sarasota Hidden History and more, by Jeff LaHurd
The history of his writing. Whether he remembers the longtime local hangout of Smack, the late Lido Beach Casino, the circus winter quarters and other lost landmarks or the joys of spring training and his radio shows. hometown, LaHurd’s friendly style lets you read, as do the evocative images that fill every page.
Dixie Hemingway’s books, by Blaize Clement, published from 2005 to present
Clement, who lived in Siesta Key, made it the backdrop for her series which focused on Dixie, a former deputy in the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Department who looks to what she believes to be the safest world in custody. animals after a tragic incident. However, she continues to stumble over corpses in her slice of heaven, starting with Curiosity Killed the Cat Sitter and until 2016 The Cat Sitter and the Canary. (Clement’s son John continued the series after his death in 2011.) With their human characters supported by Maine coon cats, orange toms, tropical fish, dachshunds, and other pets, these books fit into the ‘cozy’ mystery genre, perfect for a lazy afternoon reading.