When rain is in the forecast or we are inspired to read stories about Key West on the beach, we always head over to Key West Island Books at 513 Fleming Street to pick up some novels written by local and visiting authors. We have also participated in the ‘Writers Workshop Program’ during the Key West Literary Seminar put on each year by the Key West Writer’s Guild. There are many wonderful stories about our quirky, creative, island culture; here are some of our favorites.
THE CYPRESS HOUSE
We are excited about this one because it has the name of our own Cypress House Hotel. It’s the story of Arlen Wagner who wakes up on a train one hot Florida night and sees death’s calling card in the eyes of his fellow passengers. He abandons the train with fellow passenger Paul Brickhill and soon they find themselves in a rural jail, then stranded at the Cypress House, directly in the path of a hurricane. Rebecca Cady owns the roadhouse but the only guests she has in-house have been hand-picked by the local sheriff. It’s suspenseful and a fun read, especially if you’re staying at Cypress House with us!
Many who come to Key West are inspired by the story of the Bahama Conch, Merlin Albury, and his family. Carl Hiassen paid homage, of sorts, and our Merlin Guesthouse and Albury Court Hotel have been named in honor of him as well.
Key West is a smuggler’s paradise. Breeze Albury is the best fishing captain running contraband on the Rock. But he wasn’t always that way. Breeze Albury was basically an honest guy until the Machine (the Cubans) and a group of Colombians set him up for a deep mess. When nearly all his trap lines are cut while his bills pile up, Breeze takes a side job delivering a load of pot and realizes, too late, that he’s been set up as the fall guy.
Corruption, bad cops, smugglers, drug lords, and Conchs. It’s a funny, savvy, fast-paced thriller that gives a nod to old Key West history and lore.
SETUP ON FRONT STREET
This is local author Mike Dennis’ first novel of a trilogy that he says “takes you inside the world of Key West noir, a world tucked way back in the shadows, where the tourists never go.”
I really liked this book, noir is one of my favorite genres, and can’t wait to read the next two. The story stakes place in a Key West of the year 1991. Don Doyle is a tough, savvy Conch grifter who just got out of prison, where he served three years for a diamond con that went sour. Now he’s back to collect his $200,000, but the money has vanished, tied up in “investments” that seem fishy. A local family dynasty, a cop with a bad attitude, the FBI, and the Russian mob all have a stake in the action. They’re convinced Cuba is on the verge of “opening up”, and they all want Doyle either gone or back in prison.
But Doyle’s got his friends Shimmy and Dr. Chicago to help him out. Lots of fun!
TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT
Lastly there is Hemingway’s only novel that is set in the U.S. and in Key West, where he wrote it. I have read several of his books and couldn’t decide if I loved it or hated it. You’ll have to let me know what you think.
It’s 1937 and Harry Morgan, a fishing boat captain who runs blackmarket goods between Cuba and Key West, is broke and desperate. He makes a critical decision to smuggle Chinese immigrants into Florida in order to feed his family and kills the person in charge of getting them there. Lots of soul searching follows and maybe he was correct in his statement overall: “No man alone now has got a bloody fucking chance.”
This novel was made into a film in 1944 starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. I haven’t seen that version yet, but have put it on my list.