Back when I was writing press releases for the University of Florida, I had a professor turn the tables and start asking me questions. He wanted to know what newspaper I read. I told him the St. Pete Times, and I’m sure I had a good rationale because I was in my 20s and had lots of reasons and justifications and speeches for why I liked or disliked things.“That’s a good paper,” he said. “But they go overboard on all that ‘the moon hung lightly in the fog-misted night’ stuff. Sometimes I just want to know who got murdered, you know?”
The professor had a point. I’m not opposed to a little poetry or finesse, but journalism school, years of simple punk rock, and my shattered attention span have me screaming, “Get to the point,” or “take that ‘word symphony’ back to creative writing class,” when an author gets too overblown.Which brings me to Love and Death in the Sunshine State, a book about the disappearance of a motel owner on Anna Maria Island which is about 10 minutes from where I grew up. It's where we went to the beach. My first girlfriend lived there. I was interested to see how it described the place, especially since the book got pretty good reviews.
Man, did that thing make me mad.
Author Cutter Wood hangs out on Anna Maria Island for a week, gets obsessed with the murder/disappearance and halfway attempts to investigate. Actually, his half-assed investigation is my favorite part of the book, where he’ll sleep until 10 or 11, show up to interviews unprepared, and try to guilt the motel owner into giving him a reduced rate. Hell, I’d totally read a book about a lazy detective. Somebody get on that!
I think I hate Cutter Wood. I want Oprah to make him cry on the TV like she did to that Million Little Pieces fraud. I want him to be forced to grade his dumb students’ short stories for eternity while Jimmy Buffet plays on a loop. I want Donald Trump to be his roommate. I want the stupid typewriter he uses (yes, of course he uses a typewriter and has to mention it) to run out of ribbon right before he types out another overwritten “poetic” description of Florida.
Incidental characters sound like mashups of Tom Waits and Jimmy Buffet songs, and I don’t really think Woods actually talked or listened to them giving their “I’m just a sunburned carney worker propping up the bar here, but let me tell you some hard-earned wisdom about women and life” jazz. I grew up in Florida. I’ve ridden busses. I’ve worked terrible jobs. I’ve heard those guys all my life. They’re not that poetic.
It's also full of mistakes that are easy enough to fix in the age of Google. Mr. Bones is a bbq restaurant, not a bar. I don’t even think they have a bar. Hernando DeSoto died near the Mississippi River, not in Florida. The name of "The Sarasota Paper" is the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Tourist season is generally in the colder months. After mistakes like these, I’m a bit leery that he really saw a cook give himself a blood sugar test in a greasy spoon that smells like nail polish remover because it’s next to a nail salon in a strip mall. I also don’t believe the young woman that takes a birth control pill and a Flintstones vitamin every morning. Do they even make Flintstones vitamins anymore?
You could say that the true crime book started, or at least turned respectable with In Cold Blood, Truman Capote’s blending of reporting and novelistic tools to create a work that was able to get into the characters’ thoughts and motivations. You know what Truman Capote didn’t do? Dedicate over half of his book to chapters about the author falling in love and moving in with his elementary school crush and teaching students he thinks are stupid and attending parties.
He also, from what I remember didn’t cover the thing in the most florid, overwritten prose that I’m not going to give an example of because I’ve already returned the book and trying to remember it angries up my blood.
Sometimes you just want to know who got murdered, you know?