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Noir In The Sunshine State: Florida Crime Fiction

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From the dingy back alleys of 1940′s Los Angeles’s Chinatown to the palm tree-lined avenues of Miami, crime fiction has taken a turn for the Southeast in recent years, with the emergence Florida-based crime novels known as “Florida noir” or “Florida glare.”

In an On Point segment, “Florida Crime Fiction And The New Face of America,” host Tom Ashbrook talks Sunshine State crime fiction with Adam Gopnik, a writer for The New Yorker who wrote about Florida crime fiction in his June 10 article “In The Back Cabana,” and Florida-based mystery fiction reviewer Oline Cogdill.

For decades, L.A. was the go-to site for seedy crime noir tales, with classic films like Roman Polanski’s “Chinatown” standing out among others of the film noir genre. The Showtime original series “Dexter” shifted the narrative of dramedy crime to Florida as a source of funny and seedy noir.

Gopnik reasoned that the classic American noir is based on a theme that’s transcended the generations—finding hidden connections in plain sight.

The constant quest for connection, according to Gopnik, stems from a changing American political and population landscape in the 20th century. The story of California is a story of immigration and migration, of rural America coming to terms with increased travel capabilities.

“The whole idea is that the continent is tilted and everything loose falls into California,” Gopnik said. “One of the things that so many movies just start with, neon signs on a darkened L.A. street, because the signs themselves are a sign of the move from rural country to urban country, and that’s very much the feel of the great L.A. noir.”

Gopnik referred to murders and political corruption that exist in “the bright glare of day” in Florida as lending themselves to a very different imagining of crime than the Humphrey Bogart-era threats that taboo conduct—particularly sexual liaisons—would be revealed.

Interview Highlights

On imagining the city in L.A. and Florida noir:

“When we’re talking about these cities, we’re talking about cities of the imagination, of the mind, rooted in real experience, but if you were in L.A. in 1947, I doubt when you were walking along saxophones were playing in the background, nor were you in black and white photography … but the way we represent cities and the way we represent ourselves is as important as what they are in some practical sense.”

On migration and creating the California imagination:

“The whole idea that the continent is tilted and everything loose falls into California. But that was very much what it was like, this exodus from the Dust Bowl, from other forces from the center of country, out onto the edge, the western edge, and that was very powerful.”

On the Florida factor:

“We read regional fiction because it speaks to national concerns. It’s true we can talk about how Florida crime fiction relates to crime in Florida … but I think we’re drawn to it … because that imagery of this carnival of grotesques passing before our eyes in the daylight says something about how we imagine our country. The population from that something’s being painted in front of our eyes that we all recognize, nationally. Just as recognized in California fiction noir something about American disillusionment that transcended L.A., we recognize in Florida. We recognize something about American shamelessness that transcends the place.”

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