The best books that show you old (and very old) South Florida

Why am I passionate about this?

My work has appeared in the AtlanticHarper’s, and Best American Essays, among other places. My most recent book is Seventeen and Oh: Miami, 1972, and the NFL's Only Perfect Season. I grew up in Miami and as a writer had always intended to explore that wondrous year in Miami—when I was a nine-year-old fan—and I finally did so for its fiftieth anniversary. I wanted to write about much more than football; I hoped to bring alive the feel of old Miami, and to do so I reread many of my favorite books about South Florida. Here are a few of the best. 

I wrote...

Seventeen and Oh: Miami, 1972, and the NFL's Only Perfect Season

By Marshall Jon Fisher,

Book cover of Seventeen and Oh: Miami, 1972, and the NFL's Only Perfect Season

What is my book about?

Published on the 50th anniversary of that magic season, the definitive chronicle of the only perfect season in NFL history—from the award-winning author of A Terrible Splendor.

The 1972 Miami Dolphins had something to prove. Losers in the previous Super Bowl, a ragtag bunch of overlooked, underappreciated, or just plain old players, they were led by Don Shula, a genius young coach obsessed with obliterating the reputation that he couldn't win the big game. The backdrop to this season of redemption would be turbulent: the culture wars, the Nixon reelection campaign, the strange, unfolding saga of Watergate, and the war in Vietnam. Miami native Marshall Jon Fisher's personal perspective makes Seventeen and Oh a unique, compelling account of a season unlike any other.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Burnt Orange Heresy

Marshall Jon Fisher Why did I love this book?

This noir pastiche is one long joke, a satire on art, art criticism, and art collecting.

James Figueras, a cad bachelor freelance art critic in 1960s Palm Beach, is tasked with stealing a painting by the (fictional) French artist Jacques Deberiue.

Deberiue was the founder of the Nihilistic Surrealism movement who retired after the creation of one work, No. One: an empty frame mounted around a crack in a wall. The trail leads to the dusty outskirts of Miami and a bloody murder in the Everglades, but the real mystery surrounds the artist and his art.

And the fun is in the comedy: "The fact that he used the English No. One instead of Nombre une may or may not've influenced Samuel Beckett to write in French instead of English, as the literary critic Leon Mindlin has claimed."

By Charles Willeford,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Burnt Orange Heresy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The classic neo-noir novel acclaimed as Willeford s best, soon to be a major film

Fast-talking, backstabbing, womanizing, and fiercely ambitious art critic James Figueras will do anything blackmail, burglary, and beyond to make a name for himself. When an unscrupulous collector offers Figueras a career-making chance to interview Jacques Debierue, the greatest living and most reclusive artist, the critic must decide how far he will go to become the art-world celebrity he hungers to be. Will Figueras stop at the opportunity to skim some cream for himself or push beyond morality s limits to a bigger payoff?

Crossing the…

Book cover of Ninety-Two in the Shade

Marshall Jon Fisher Why did I love this book?

I re-read this early McGuane as I was researching my book, looking for details of South Florida life during the 1972 football season.

The protagonist, Thomas Skelton, comes home to Key West from Gainesville and sets out to become a fishing guide. It was written during, and takes place during, the fall of 1972, and Skelton’s dad even watches football in one scene.

But this Key West native isn’t interested in the perfect Dolphins—he’s a Packers fan! (This anomaly is explained, though not excused, by the fact that the author hailed from northern Michigan.)

I was enthralled, though, by some of McGuane’s best writing, and got this gem about the lure of South Florida: “…American bad actors who, when the chips are down, go to Florida with all the gothics and grotesqueries of chrome and poured-to-form concrete that that implies.” 

By Thomas McGuane,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Ninety-Two in the Shade as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Tiring of the company of junkies and burn-outs, Thomas Skelton goes home to Key West to take up a more wholesome life. But things fester in America's utter South. And Skelton's plans to become a skiff guide in the shining blue subtropical waters place him on a collision course with Nichol Dance, who has risen to the crest of the profession by dint of infallible instincts and a reputation for homicide. Out of their deadly rivalry, Thomas McGuane has constructed a novel with the impetus of a thriller and the heartbroken humor that is his distinct contribution to American prose.…

Book cover of Miami Blues

Marshall Jon Fisher Why did I love this book?

When Willeford became a friend of my family, around 1979, he was known only by a small cult following.

He hadn't published a book in seven years, and his twelve previous books were out of print. He was teaching at Miami-Dade Community College and reviewing mystery books for The Miami Herald.

Miami Blues, which rescued its author from obscurity, presented a Miami in transition. South Beach is still decrepit and full of old people, but there is a new sense of danger on the streets—a scent of violent desperation among refugees from Latin America and opportunists from the rest of the U.S.

Like Willeford's pulp novels of earlier decades, Miami Blues and the later Hoke Moseley books defy their genre. For detective novels, they have precious little mystery or police procedure.

There is the smattering of Willefordian violence, and each book does have a criminal who gets nabbed in the end, but this all seems peripheral to the portrayal of the characters—and their city

By Charles Willeford,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Miami Blues as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

After a brutal day investigating a quadruple homicide, Detective Hoke Moseley settles into his room at the un-illustrious El Dorado Hotel and nurses a glass of brandy. With his guard down, he doesn’t think twice when he hears a knock on the door. The next day, he finds himself in the hospital, badly bruised and with his jaw wired shut. He thinks back over ten years of cases wondering who would want to beat him into unconsciousness, steal his gun and badge, and most importantly, make off with his prized dentures. But the pieces never quite add up to revenge,…

Book cover of The Corpse Had a Familiar Face

Marshall Jon Fisher Why did I love this book?

Edna Buchanan moved from New Jersey to Miami on a whim in 1965 and found her calling in the journalistic life.

Calvin Trillin would later write, In Miami, a few figures are regularly discussed by first name among people they have never actually met. One of them is Fidel. Another is Edna.

She had a nose for the bizarre and the macabre—as well as for a good lead: A man wandering along a Miami Beach street in his undershorts and carrying a blood-stained knife Sunday morning led police to the scene of a murder.

In this memoir she recalls zipping around South Florida from Hollywood to Homestead in her yellow Triumph Spitfire to produce her almost-daily cataloguing of gruesome crime. The “polite” killer who abducted couples on dates, raped the woman, and then allowed her to dress before shooting both.

The hand grenade thrown from a car into the yard of Enrique DeLeons Southwest Thirteenth Street ranch house. (He blamed pro-Castro Communists.)

The debt-ridden bigamist who killed his most recent bride and then himself, leaving a note in his Dupont Plaza office: Dont pay my bills, my life is enough.

By Edna Buchanan,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Corpse Had a Familiar Face as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Now in trade paperback, Pulitzer Prize winner Edna Buchanan’s classic nonfiction masterpiece detailing events from her eighteen years writing for The Miami Herald.

Nobody covered love and lunacy, life and death on Miami’s mean streets better than legendary Miami Herald police reporter Edna Buchanan. Winner of a 1986 Pulitzer Prize, Edna has seen it all, including more than 5,000 corpses. Many of them had familiar faces.

Edna Buchanan doesn’t write about cops—she writes about people: the father who murdered his comatose toddler in her hospital crib; fifteen-year-old Charles Cobb—a lethal killer; Gary Robinson, who "died hungry"; the Haitian who was…

Book cover of Shadow Country: A New Rendering of the Watson Legend

Marshall Jon Fisher Why did I love this book?

In the 1990s, I was captivated by Peter Matthiessens three Mr. Watson” novels, which explored the lawless world of Floridas fin de siècle Ten Thousand Islands region.

Last year, I finally reread them in their final form, fused into the magnum opus Shadow Country. In telling the story of the murder of real-life Florida pioneer and renegade Edgar Watson from many different points of view, Matthiessen creates a richly textured landscape.

Outlaws, escapees, and adventurous settlers work, intermarry, and squabble, making a hardscrabble life among the swamps, the rivers, the mosquitos, and the gators.

By Peter Matthiessen,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Shadow Country as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Inspired by a near-mythic event of the wild Florida frontier at the turn of the twentieth century, Shadow Country reimagines the legend of the Everglades sugar planter and notorious outlaw E. J. Watson, who drives himself to his own violent end at the hands of his neighbours. Following the story of his son Lucius as he tries to learn the truth about his father, the story tells of devastating events and traverses wild landscapes inhabited by Americans of every provenance and colour. In this new rendering of the Watson trilogy, Matthiessen has consolidated his fictional masterwork into a poetic, compelling…

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The Midnight Man

By Julie Anderson,

Book cover of The Midnight Man

Julie Anderson Author Of The Midnight Man

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I write historical crime fiction, and my latest novel is set in a hospital, a real place, now closed. The South London Hospital for Women and Children (1912–1985) was set up by pioneering suffragists and women surgeons Maud Chadburn and Eleanor Davies-Colley (the first woman admitted to the Royal College of Surgeons) and I recreate the now almost-forgotten hospital in my book. Events take place in 1946 when wartime trauma still impacts upon a society exhausted by conflict, and my book choices also reflect this.

Julie's book list on evocative stories set in a hospital

What is my book about?

A historical thriller set in south London just after World War II, as Britain returns to civilian life and the men return home from the fight, causing the women to leave their wartime roles. The South London Hospital for Women and Children is a hospital, (based on a real place) run by women for women and must make adjustments of its own. As austerity bites, the coldest Winter then on record makes life grim. Then a young nurse goes missing.

Days later, her body is found behind a locked door, and two women from the hospital, unimpressed by the police response, decide to investigate. Highly atmospheric and evocative of a distinct period and place.

The Midnight Man

By Julie Anderson,

What is this book about?


Winter 1946

One cold dark night, as a devastated London shivers through the transition to post-war life, a young nurse goes missing from the South London Hospital for Women & Children. Her body is discovered hours later behind a locked door.

Two women from the hospital join forces to investigate the case. Determined not to return to the futures laid out for them before the war, the unlikely sleuths must face their own demons and dilemmas as they pursue - The Midnight Man.

‘A mystery that evokes the period – and a recovering London – in…

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