In their riveting new anthology, Paradise is Deadly (Mystery and Horror, LLC, 2023), an impressive group of Florida authors — the Florida Gulf Coast Sisters in Crime — speaks to a well-established premise: Florida. Is trying. To kill you. Florida noir fans probably won’t be surprised by the idea that the Sunshine State is actually pretty shady. But in this case, the devil, and much delight, is in the details.
Each of the collection’s nineteen short stories is a sinister treat. Like a hidden candy stash, I found myself wanting to scarf these tales down — just one more! — when I probably should have washed the dishes or answered emails. Oh, sweet twisted deliciousness!
Sisters in Crime
The Florida Gulf Coast Sisters in Crime was founded in 2015, an offshoot of the Florida chapter of the national Sisters in Crime organization, which promotes the advancement, recognition, and professional development of women crime writers. Paradise is Deadly is the group’s first anthology.
Some of the contributors (such as editors Wendy Dingwall, Martha Reed, and Barbara Ryan) are acclaimed veteran crime writers. Others are publishing for the first time. All of the stories focus on locations along Florida’s Gulf Coast. The stories strike a wide variety of tone and genre, from warm-toned cozies, to nail-biting thrillers, to rich historical fiction.
All Over The Map
I particularly enjoyed the broody buildup of Jenna Kernan’s “Small Craft Advisory.” This tale pits the strained friendship of two men on a less-than-legal crabbing expedition against two tourists on jet skis — all while a dark storm is rolling in. I also relished the absurdity of Wendy Dingwall’s “Murder in Myakka Park.” A new age protagonist practices neo-shamanistic listening through the minds of forest critters to get to the bottom of a murder. Say no more: I’m in! And the cold, calculating logic of a therapist gone rogue in Cindy Martin’s “The Malice Challenge” left me both shaken and stirred — in a good way.
Your mileage may vary. You may be drawn to different stories simply because of the well-loved places they profile. Among them: Spanish Point, Ybor City, and the Everglades. But each of the collection’s stories is well worth the short time it takes to read it.
Maybe it’s just living through three close brushes with hurricanes. (Irma God!, Ian’t Misbehavin’, and The Very Idalia, as we call them in our house). But there’s a grain of truth to Florida stories that call evoke the mystery and precariousness of life on this wild peninsula. Any while some may call it escapism, I’m not quite ready to place myself on a strict diet of The Wall Street Journal.
I think fiction has a place, and that place is somewhere between the heart and the head. Right where flurry of human facts and feelings come together, demanding answers.
Paradise is Deadly helped me think through my strong positive feelings for this bewitching and bewildering state. It might do just the same for you.