So some years ago I was writing this series of P.I. novels about a detective in St. Louis. He wasn’t exactly your classic shamus but he did have Sam Spade DNA and he did walk some pretty mean streets in a gritty industrial city. But what I wanted to do was a second series, something different from what I’d been writing. More of a classic P.I. instead of my St. Louis guy who, while having some of the classic P.I. characteristics, was also a star-crossed schlemiel with a nervous stomach and a suicidal girlfriend. He also had his office over a doughnut shop, and smelled like a doughnut. This turned some women on, some off. Not classic. But the book market being what it was (is), I was going to write another series more in the classic vein, yet in some ways different.
Immediately I thought of California. I’d always enjoyed the California P.I. novel and its great practitioners, Hammett, Chandler, Lyons, Pronzini, Macdonald.
Wait a sec.
Macdonald? There was also a writer named MacDonald who wrote a series set in Florida.
Hmm. Florida versus California.
Well, here’s what I liked about California as a P.I. series setting: The ocean, the beach, the lush foliage, the sunshine, the fact that most people there were from someplace else.
Wait another sec.
Wasn’t that also true of Florida? Of course, California had lots of illegal drugs. But that was Haight Ashbury or dorm room stuff (at least that’s what came to mind), while the Florida drug scene brought to mind scar-faced guys, high speed Cigarette boats, automatic weapons that would fire underwater.
But California had movie biz madness.
Florida had a bizarre murder every week.
California had mountains.
Florida had swamps.
California had Santa Anna winds.
Florida had hurricanes.
California had people who’d changed their names many times.
So did Florida.
Florida had alligators.
Florida had tornados.
Florida had Ernest Hemingway.
Florida had a string of islands that was like another country.
I decided to set my new series in Florida. The main character would be a former Orlando cop named Fred Carver who, during a hold up, had been shot in the left leg, leaving his knee frozen at a thirty degree angle. This meant he walked with a cane. The cane was good, I decided. It was a weapon always handy; it was a phallic symbol; it could be used for everything from a doorbell ringer to a marker in the sand. Not only that, my P.I. would swim great distances every morning, making his upper body extraordinarily strong. With his bad leg he was at a physical disadvantage in a struggle on land – but in the water he was deadlier than the toughest thug. He would live in a simple cottage on the beach, have a police contact named DeSoto (one of my favorite old cars. And explorers.), and a lady love named Edwina, who sold condominiums. (How Florida is that?) He would also smoke cigars, because at that time I smoked the occasional cigar.
Since this was going to be a different kind of noir detective novel on the opposite side of the country from California and its temperate, sometimes foggy climate, my books would feature brutal heat, glaring sunlight, and sometimes violent storms. Much more plausible in Florida, which doesn’t have places like San Diego. Each book and each title would in one way or another feature extreme heat.
So there was Fred Carver, a noir kind of guy but with swimming trunks or jeans and a T-shirt instead of a trench coat. In the sunlight. In the heat. Under pressure.
Heat and pressure. That’s what the Fred Carver novels are about.
That produces diamonds, you know.
John Lutz is the author of more than forty novels and over two hundred short stories and articles. He is a past president of both Mystery Writers of America and Private Eye Writers of America. Among his awards are the MWA Edgar, the PWA Shamus, the Trophée 813 for best mystery short story collection translated into the French language, the Eye Life Achievement Award, and the Short Mystery Fiction Society’s Golden Derringer Award for Lifetime Achievement. He is the author of two private eye series, the Nudger series, set in St. Louis, Missouri, and the Carver series, set in Florida, as well as many non-series novels. His SWF Seeks Same was made into the hit movie Single White Female, starring Bridget Fonda and Jennifer Jason Leigh, and his novel The Ex was made into the HBO original movie of the same name, for which he co-authored the screenplay. Learn more at www.johnlutzonline.com.