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8 Crime Fiction Characters From Florida

When someone thinks noir or hardboiled fiction, cities like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles typically come to mind immediately. But great crime stories aren’t limited to those locales. In fact, there’s a plethora of great pulp fiction in the Sunshine State. From PIs to nosy journalists, Florida’s a hotbed of not only killer crime stories, but really compelling protagonists. Maybe I’m biased, being a Miami native and the author of my own South Florida crime series. But who isn’t? Here’s a list of tropical true detective beach reads that’ll get you through the spring, summer, and beyond.

1. John D. MacDonald’s "Travis McGee"

Neither a cop nor a PI, Travis McGee makes a living recovering lost stuff for clients for a sizable fee. McGee, a Florida Keys native, lives on The Busted Flush, a boat he won in a poker game and that he keeps docked in a Fort Lauderdale marina. The somewhat jaded McGee isn’t a young buck, but he’s no slouch either. An ex-military man with t’ai chi martial arts skills and a sharp mind, the self-proclaimed “salvage consultant” stars in 21 novels and is considered by many to be the first of the great Florida crime novel heroes.

The first book in the Travis McGee series is 1964’s The Deep Blue Good-by.

2. James W. Hall’s "Thorn"

James W. Hall, author of 19 novels, winner of the Edgar and Shamus Awards, and founder of Florida International University’s highly-regarded creative writing program, is probably best known for his Thorn novels, which star the Florida Keys-based private detective with no first name. Hall’s haunted protagonist stars in 14 exotic adventures—from the must-read Under Cover of Daylight, which features Thorn hunting down the murderer of his foster mother to the most recent, The Big Finish—that explore every dark and sunlit corner of the detective’s Key Largo home and beyond. The series owes a lot to the McGee books while also covering new ground, and the off-the-grid Thorn makes for an unforgettable hero.

3. Charles Willeford’s "Hoke Moseley"

Broke, depressed, and perpetually down on his luck: that’s a quick and easy way to describe Hoke Moseley, the rule-breaking Miami cop who stars in Charles Willeford’s masterful, unsentimental series of four novels that kick off with the classic Miami Blues. Willeford has a daunting and acclaimed body of work, but many point to his Moseley books as some of his best output, which showcase the deadly, strange, and surprising characters that litter the Miami map.

4. Edna Buchanan’s "Britt Montero"

Edna Buchanan is a legendary Miami journalist who spent decades on the crime beat for The Miami Herald, culminating in the true crime classic The Corpse Had A Familiar Face. Her fiction packs as much punch as her reportage, especially the series that makes up the bulk of her novels, starring Miami reporter Britt Montero. Like the writer who created her, Montero lives and breathes her beat—fueled by an insatiable curiosity that puts her in precarious situations all over Miami. Police corruption, serial killers, hurricanes, and crimes of passion are just some of the things that Montero faces off against in her quest to get to the bottom of the story. Her diligence and nose for the truth make her adventures impossible to put down.

The first book in the Britt Montero series is 1992’s Contents Under Pressure.

5. Vicki Hendricks’s "Sherry Parlay"

Oh, Sherry Parlay. What more can be said about Vicki Hendricks’s neo-noir classic, Miami Purity? No novel expresses the sweat-soaked, tense, and sultry vibe of the city more than this one, and it owes a lot of its acclaim and success to Parlay—an on-the-run stripper-turned-laundry worker. An inverted, feminist take on James M. Cain’s pulp classic The Postman Always Rings Twice, Miami Purity sees Parlay trying to make the best of her life after a series of bad turns, only to stumble into a dangerous relationship at her new job. Sexy, smart, sharp-tongued, and unfiltered, Parlay stands out as one of the most memorable characters in modern crime fiction.

6. Elmore Leonard’s "Jackie Burke"

Crime fiction fans know that before Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown, there was Jackie Burke. Unlike the movie adaptation, the book, Rum Punch, takes place in West Palm Beach, Florida—but the character of Burke remains as (if not more) vibrant and savvy as Pam Grier’s stellar screen turn. Burke is a money-smuggling flight attendant who finds herself cornered on all sides—by her bosses, the FBI, and a local bail bondsman. Burke uses her smarts and double-cross skills to survive, and in typical Elmore Leonard style, it’s an absolute joy to read.

Jackie Burke appeared in 1992’s Rum Punch.

7. Les Standiford’s "John Deal"

John Deal doesn’t want any trouble. But for whatever reason, it seems to find him. A reluctant detective, Les Standiford’s series star is actually a Miami building contractor by day, but finds himself ensnared by the city’s tentacles on a regular basis. Whether it’s murder, backroom deals, or a political kidnapping, Deal has done it all in his eight-book series, and his unforgettable adventures prove to be fast-paced and engaging.

The first book in the John Deal series is 2002’s Done Deal.

8. Carolina Garcia-Aguilera’s "Lupe Solano"

Private eye Lupe Solano is a self-proclaimed “Cuban-American princess” from a wealthy and prominent Miami family. But don’t let the princess tag fool you—Solano is a tough investigator who is unafraid to wander the seedier side of Miami. The Solano mysteries not only give readers an educational crash course in Miami and Cuban culture, but also present the work of Solano from an informed perspective, as Carolina Garcia-Aguilera is a private eye herself. Gritty, spicy, sexy, and devoted to her friends and family, Solano thrives as a character and gives readers a tour of the vivid Miami landscape in a way only Garcia-Aguilera can describe.

The first book in the Lupe Solano series is 1996’s Bloody Waters.

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12 Facts About Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness
George C. Beresford/Getty Images
George C. Beresford/Getty Images

Joseph Conrad’s 1899 novella about venturing into the moral depths of colonial Africa is among the most frequently analyzed literary works in college curricula.

1. ENGLISH WAS THE AUTHOR’S THIRD LANGUAGE.

It’s impressive enough that Conrad wrote a book that has stayed relevant for more than a century. This achievement seems all the more impressive when considering that he wrote it in English, his third language. Born Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski in 1857, Conrad was a native Polish speaker. French was his second language. He didn’t even know any English—the language of his literary composition—until age 21.

2. HEART OF DARKNESS BEGINS AND ENDS IN THE UK.

Though it recounts Marlow's voyage through Belgian Congo in search of Kurtz and is forever linked to the African continent, Conrad’s novella begins and ends in England. At the story’s conclusion, the “tranquil waterway” that “seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness” is none other than the River Thames.

3. THE PROTAGONIST MARLOW IS CONRAD.

The well-traveled Marlow—who appears in other Conrad works, such as Lord Jim—is based on his equally well-traveled creator. In 1890, 32-year-old Conrad sailed the Congo River while serving as second-in-command on a Belgian trading company steamboat. As a career seaman, Conrad explored not only the African continent but also ventured to places ranging from Australia to India to South America.

4. LIKE KURTZ AND MARLOW, CONRAD GOT SICK ON HIS VOYAGE.

Illness claimed Kurtz, an ivory trader who has gone mysteriously insane. It nearly claimed Marlow. And these two characters almost never existed, owing to their creator’s health troubles. Conrad came down with dysentery and malaria in Belgian Congo, and afterwards had to recuperate in the German Hospital, London, before heading to Geneva, Switzerland, to undergo hydrotherapy. Though he survived, Conrad suffered from poor health for many years afterward.

5. THERE HAVE BEEN MANY ALLEGED KURTZES IN REAL LIFE.

The identity of the person on whom Conrad based the story’s antagonist has aroused many a conjecture. Among those suggested as the real Kurtz include a French agent who died on board Conrad’s steamship, a Belgian colonial officer, and Welsh explorer Henry Morton Stanley.

6. COLONIZING WAS ALL THE RAGE WHEN HEART OF DARKNESS APPEARED.

Imperialism—now viewed as misguided, oppressive, and ruthless—was much in vogue when Conrad’s novella hit shelves. The "Scramble for Africa" had seen European powers stake their claims on the majority of the continent. Britain’s Queen Victoria was even portrayed as the colonies' "great white mother." And writing in The New Review in 1897, adventurer Charles de Thierry (who tried and failed to establish his own colony in New Zealand) echoed the imperialistic exuberance of many with his declaration: “Since the wise men saw the star in the East, Christianity has found no nobler expression.”

7. CHINUA ACHEBE WAS NOT A FAN OF THE BOOK.

Even though Conrad was no champion of colonialism, Chinua Achebe—the Nigerian author of Things Fall Apart and other novels—delivered a 1975 lecture called “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness” that described Conrad as a “thoroughgoing racist” and his ubiquitous short classic as “an offensive and deplorable book.” However, even Achebe credited Conrad for having “condemned the evil of imperial exploitation.” And others have recognized Heart of Darkness as an indictment of the unfairness and barbarity of the colonial system.

8. THE BOOK WASN’T SUCH A BIG DEAL—AT FIRST.

In 1902, three years after its initial serialization in a magazine, Heart of Darkness appeared in a volume with two other Conrad stories. It received the least notice of the three. In fact, not even Conrad himself considered it a major work. And during his lifetime, the story “received no special attention either from readers or from Conrad himself,” writes Gene M. Moore in the introduction to Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness: A Casebook. But Heart of Darkness managed to ascend to immense prominence in the 1950s, after the planet had witnessed “the horror”—Kurtz's last words in the book—of WWII and the ramifications of influential men who so thoroughly indulged their basest instincts.

9. T.S. ELIOT BORROWED AN IMPORTANT LINE.

Though Heart of Darkness wasn’t an immediate sensation, it evidently was on the radar of some in the literary community. The famous line announcing the antagonist’s demise, “Mistah Kurtz—he dead,” serves as the epigraph to the 1925 T.S. Eliot poem “The Hollow Men.”

10. THE STORY INSPIRED APOCALYPSE NOW.

Eighty years after Conrad’s novella debuted, the Francis Ford Coppola film Apocalypse Now hit the big screen. Though heavily influenced by Heart of Darkness, the movie’s setting is not Belgian Congo, but the Vietnam War. And though the antagonist (played by Marlon Brando) is named Kurtz, this particular Kurtz is no ivory trader, but a U.S. military officer who has become mentally unhinged.

11. HEART OF DARKNESS HAS BEEN MADE INTO AN OPERA.

Tarik O'Regan’s Heart of Darkness, an opera in one act, opened in 2011. Premiering at London’s Royal Opera House, it was reportedly the first operatic adaptation of Conrad’s story and heavily inspired by Apocalypse Now.

12. THE BOOK ALSO SPARKED A VIDEO GAME.

In a development not even Conrad’s imagination could have produced, his classic inspired a video game, Spec Ops: The Line, which was released in 2012.

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Design
A Cartographer Is Mapping All of the UK’s National Parks, J.R.R. Tolkien-Style
Peak District National Park
Peak District National Park
Dan Bell

Cartographer Dan Bell makes national parks into fantasy lands. Bell, who lives near Lake District National Park in England, is currently on a mission to draw every national park in the UK in the style of the maps in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Kottke.org reports.

The project began in September 2017, when Bell posted his own hand-drawn version of a Middle Earth map online. He received such a positive response that he decided to apply the fantasy style to real world locations. He has completed 11 out of the UK’s 15 parks so far. Once he finishes, he hopes to tackle the U.S. National Park system, too. (He already has Yellowstone National Park down.)

Bell has done various other maps in the same style, including ones for London and Game of Thrones’s Westeros, and he commissions, in case you have your own special locale that could use the Tolkien treatment. Check out a few of his park maps below.

A close-up of a map for Peak District National Park
Peak District National Park in central England
Dan Bell

A black-and-white illustration of Cairngorms National Park in the style of a 'Lord of the Rings' map.
Cairngorms National Park in Scotland
Dan Bell

A black-and-white illustration of Lake District National Park in the style of a 'Lord of the Rings' map.
Lake District National Park in England
Dan Bell

You can buy prints of the maps here.

[h/t Kottke.org]

All images by Dan Bell

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