Miami Book Fair International 2010: A Biased Guide

Books, like people, come in all colors, shapes and sizes. Sure, their general make up– binding, page, ink – is pretty much of a form (come to think of it, so are people’s), but what’s inside can be as varied and surprising as people themselves. And like people, there’s generally at least one for everyone (one hopes anyway), be it the shipping fan boy, the steampunk floozy, the blood-struck, the loved-up, the agenda-plagued, the parlor maid… you name it.

But of course not all books are for all people. The difference between what you dig and I dig and what Dick and Jane and Spot digs can be as vast as the proverbial deep blue sea. That’s okay. As they say (somewhat vaguely), it takes all kinds. And while I could undoubtedly make an informed guess as to just what books get you giddy, it’d be positively presumptuous of me to unequivocally think I know what you most like to read. I know what I like though. And I’m not afraid to shout it from the rooftops. So for this year’s Book Fair, I’m gonna give it to you straight from my own personal hitlist.

You ready?

Where to begin at Book Fair is never an easy decision to make, so let’s begin with a bang bang. Yep, you guessed it. I’m talkin’ crime fiction; the pulpier the better. And this year’s line-up of lout loving storytellers is worthy of a streetfight between Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade.

First there are the Floridians – Tim Dorsey, James W. Hall, Carl Hiaasen – none of whom ever read a sordid story they didn’t like. Hell, half the time they wrote the sordid story themselves. But even in fiction, each of these wily wordslingers is gunning from one geographical fact – and that, of course, is Florida. Tampa-man Tim Dorsey’s latest romp is entitled Gator A-Go-Go (Morrow), and it brings back his psychotically beloved Serge A. Storms. Miamians James W. Hall and Carl Hiaasen are respectively out behind The Silencer (Minotaur) and Star Island (Knopf), both of which delve into the more social aspects of anti-social behavior, and each laces their badass narratives with running and gunning commentaries on the way we live now.

Of course the FLA is not the only sunny place for dynamite writers and their shady people; Cali’s also got a cast that could bask in the one sliver of shadow on even the brightest of days. Among the mightiest two telling the tales are James Ellroy and Walter Mosley. Yeah, I know, we’ve all seen (and dug) L.A. Confidential and Devil in a Blue Dress. But as keen as both of those screen gems were, they represent less than a fraction of each man’s output. Confidential, of course, came amid an onslaught that included The Black Dahlia,The Big Nowhere and White Jazz to make Ellroy’s wild L.A. Quartet, which he kicked off the bandstand and into a gutter called the Underworld USA Trilogy. And if the three-pack of American Tabloid, The Cold Six Thousand and Blood’s a Rover told a stone-cold story of the States, Ellroy’s latest, The Hilliker Curse: My Pursuit of Women (Knopf) tells us just where it all spring from.

Mosley’s long been busy making up his own mad cast of deeply driven characters, beginning with Devil’s Easy Rawlins, whose series ran for 11 L.A. summers. In that creation’s considerable wake came Fearless Jones, Socrates Fortlow and, most recently, Leonid McGill, who first started tampering trouble in 2009’s The Long Fall and seconded his emotion in last year’s Known to Evil. But all of the above are either good guys or bad guys (in the eyes of the law anyway), and their life is riddled with crime. With The Last Days of Ptolemy Gray (Riverhead) though, Mosley’s given us a regular guy, and the result is philosophic in proportion. Don’t get me wrong, the inner city streets still steam with splendidly sordid story, the just do so by going deep beneath the pavement.

On the poppier side of crime, 2010’s roster also includes a veritable who’s who of bestsellers, three of whom got Florida somewhere in their fiber. Thrillist types will have already taken to James Grippando’s eight volume run starring Miami criminal defense attorney Jack Swyteck. And while that series ended in ’08, the settings in which Grippando has written his three subsequent standalones has remained the same. Money to Burn (HarperCollins) might be booked in the Big Bad Apple, but the words hit the page right here in sunny South FLA.

Brad Meltzer is another who prefers slinging his words from our sinfully delicious stretch of sand, in his case Aventura. His Heroes for My Son (HarperCollins) isn’t set there, of course (with 52 notables ranging from Dr. Seuss to Mr. Rogers, it’s kinda set everywhere), but it’s a cinch his son calls the place home.

Too bad the folks behind Dexter don’t have quite the same respect for place, because if they had the TV version of Jeff Lindsay’s creation would not just be set in South Florida, it’d be filmed here as well. Alas the cast now does their creeping in L.A. and I for one have cast the show off my favorites list. Of course it’s not Lindsay’s fault (not that I know of anyway). The writer still lives down here, and he has kept his serial killer down here too. So there’s no excuse to not to did Dexter is Delicious (Random House).

The other two of the five crime-sided bestsellers are Ridley Pearson and Scott Turow. Pearson’s known to co-write and play with Dave Barry, so he gets a South Florida pass. And besides Idaho lawman Walt Fleming, the star of his In Harm’s Way (Putman), belongs just where Pearson’s placed him. Turow, on the other hand, doesn’t have a grain of South Florida sand in him; he’s got chops though, and quite a track record to boot. With Innocent (Grand Central Publishing) catching up with the cast of his billion-selling Presumed Innocent it’s a bet that record is bound to be broken.

Naturally crime isn’t nearly the only subject on the Book Fair agenda. There will be great moments in sound (Patti Smith, Greil Marcus, Alex Ross) and vision (John Waters, Chip Kidd), and equally great moments in history (Ron Chernow, Jonathan Eig, Sebastian Junger, Simon Winchester, T. J. Stiles) and literary fiction (Aimee Bender, Myla Goldberg, Brock Clarke, Michael Cunningham, Dave Eggers, Jonathan Franzen). There will food and drink too, with South Beach Wine and Food Festival head Lee Brian Schrager and his celebrity chef cookbook. And yes, there will be legend. No, I don’t mean George W. Bush, who’s inexplicably opening this year’s Fair. I mean Pat Conroy, Gay Talese, Carlos Fuentes and Salman Rushdie, any one of whom could be a Fair unto themselves.

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