Mr. Chatterbox

By staff November 1, 2008

Guess what? I’m writing a Florida detective story. And it’s being serialized right here in Sarasota Magazine—starting on page 106 of this very issue!

It’s something I always wanted to do. But I’ve kept putting it off, busy—like all of us— with my job, raising a dog, then another dog, investing in real estate, losing my shirt in real estate, having no options left, watching my retirement nest egg vanish—you know the drill. Well, I am postponing it no longer. It’s my turn. Never have I felt so ready, so fecund, so over-ripe.

It’s a big responsibility, because Sarasota is the spiritual home of the Florida detective story. Yes, this is where John D. MacDonald is from, and he invented the genre. I was lucky to know John during the last years of his life, back in the mid 1980s. He was quite a guy. So wise, so generous, so highly principled. Looking back on our relationship, I have only one regret. I should have asked him more questions.

I do remember one thing he said to me, though. “It’s all about suspense. What you want to do is pile on the suspense. Get to the point where he’s hanging on the cliff, biting his fingernails. Then, when he can’t take it any more, you throw in 10 or 12 pages of boring philosophy.”

Well, early readers agree I have certainly followed this formula to the letter. The boring philosophy part, anyway.

John had as his hero the famous Travis McGee, the knight in slightly tarnished armor. He lived on a houseboat and helped damsels in distress recover large sums of money. My hero is Timothy Spryke, a semi-retired decorator from Hurlbutt, Wisconsin. He lives in an old Spanish bungalow in Laurel Park and helps trophy wives recover their living room furniture.

And on the way to the upholsterer, strange things happen. He stumbles across bodies on the lanai. He uncovers real estate scams in gated communities. He saves taste-challenged rich people from the horrors of floral wallpaper. And in the most exciting episode of all, he redecorates Supervisor of Elections Kathy Dent’s office and finds the 18,000 missing votes. (Unfortunately, this particular adventure comes in Chapter Two, and you have to read the first part first, which begins, as I mentioned, on page 106.)

Writing a Florida detective series set in Sarasota is certainly a lot of fun, and I can see why they are so popular. They’re light and easy to read—the good ones, anyway—yet they deal with important human truths. The hard part is you have so much competition, right here in Sarasota. Just look what I’m up against.

First of all, the memory of John D. MacDonald, who is right up there with Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett as a great American writer. And John was so good that he spawned a whole generation of other writers, who took what he did and took it in new directions. People like Carl Hiaasen and Edna Buchanan and Randy Wayne White. And of course, the Sarasota guys, upon whose shoulders I now finding myself standing.

Like Tim Dorsey. OK, he’s not really from Sarasota (he lives in Tampa) but he’s written for Sarasota Magazine many times, so we consider him “local”—even “family.” (And by the way, he’ll be at Selby Public Library on Nov. 5 and the Ringling Museum Library on Nov. 6.) I’ll say one thing for Tim. He’s been in more bedrooms than Mick Jagger. True, he’s lying on the nightstand, underneath John Grisham, but still—it’s been quite a success story for someone who used to spend his nights working at the Tampa Tribune and free-lancing for Sarasota Magazine.

Tim’s “hero” is the psychopathic, drug-riddled, yet oddly charismatic Serge Storms, the son of a Cuban jai-alai player who is wanted by the police for a long stream of murders. Serge is always driving around Florida with his sidekick Seymore “Coleman” Bunsen, on a quest for Florida history and the places that speak to him, both culturally and personally, like Cape Canaveral. On his endless road trips he has a tendency to come across people he doesn’t like and who, for one reason or other, don’t deserve to live, so he kills them, often in ingenious ways.

The odd thing about Tim is that he and Serge aren’t the least bit alike. Tim is actually rather sweet-faced and a doting father, extremely polite and non-confrontational. But my goodness, what inner turmoil must be going on in that brain. And judging from his success, a lot of other people seem to feel the same way. I mean it as a compliment that Tim has been able to channel a sort of Rush Limbaugh soothsaying—but in a good moral way; not the evil, bullying way that Rush does it—and connect with aggressive feelings in all of us.

Other shoulders I’m trampling on are those of Stuart Kaminsky, with his Lew Fonesca series that take place right here in Sarasota. Stuart, whom many of you know, lives in town and has, throughout his career, risen to the very top ranks of American mystery writers. Lew is a former Chicagoan whose wife was killed in an accident, so he moves here to recover and never quite does. But he gets a job as a process server and is always coming up against people who need help. So he helps them.

Is Lew like Stuart? Again, not really. Stuart has an academic side, having a Ph.D. and having taught college and been a dean. His lifestyle is professional and upper middle- class. His wife, Enid, is a psychotherapist-turned-manuscript-editor. Perhaps you’ve seen him on television—he conducts writing classes for Pine View students and they’re broadcast on local TV. Have I watched? Of course. How do you think I was able to write Decorating Can Be Murder, which begins in this issue, on page 106?

What can I possibly bring to the genre that’s new and exciting, you’re probably asking yourself. My boss certainly was. Well, I’ll tell you—product placement. Yes, you and your business can appear in Decorating Can Be Murder. Imagine the thrill of having your restaurant—or boutique, or real estate business—become an exciting murder scene. Or let’s say you just want to see your name in print. It can all be arranged. And the cost is probably much less that you think. “Mentions” and “naming opportunities” start as low as $50. (Favorable mentions start slightly higher, and no mentions at all can be negotiated, with prices on request.)

And that’s not all. We’re working on a special Web site with enriched content. You’ll be able to see all of Mr. Spryke’s decorating projects, as vividly brought to life by artist Michael White, including sketches, working drawings, even swatches and paint colors. On the Web site Timothy Spryke will be visiting the homes of local celebrities—so far he’s lined up Cliff Roles, David Band and Carolyn Michel—and will offer constructive criticism concerning their décor. Plus all sorts of news, tips, and gossip, not to mention special parties and events for all the friends of Timothy. 

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