‘There are places I remember’

What are the places in Southwest Florida that inspired Curb Appeal, the third book in the mystery/suspense series featuring CW (Candace) McCoy, the former detective applying her investigative skills as a real estate agent? To paraphrase John Lennon, here are a few of the places I remember, including one many residents hope they’ll never see: the inside of the Sarasota Police Department.

 

 

One of the many condo buildings gracing the skyline of Sarasota, FL #curbappeal

 

 

Sarasota police officers demonstrate vascular hold that Skip Taggert tries on CW #curbappeal

 

 

The Power of Place

How many times have you read a novel and fallen in love with the location? (Fans of Ellis Peters and Nevada Barr, raise your hands.)

CW McCoy’s Spanish Point holds the same allure for those of us who, like CW, fled the darkness of the North for Florida’s Gulf Coast. The result is Spanish Point, a fictionalized mashup of the cities of Sarasota and Bradenton that isn’t the paradise it first seems.

Over the few weeks, we’ll look at the places in the region that inspired Curb Appeal, the third book in the mystery/suspense series featuring CW (Candace) McCoy, the former police detective turned real estate agent whose struggles with career and personal issues lead her into dangerous terrain.

While Curb Appeal is fiction, it’s the tragic attacks on real estate agents that form the backbone of the book—that and efforts by the National Association of Realtors to promote awareness and safety.

Each day on social media, we’ll take a look at the homes, boats and watering holes of CW’s friends and enemies as we reconcile the images of paradise with reality. I hope you’ll join us for a guided tour. In the meantime, here are a few deceptively ordinary images from the Gulf Coast.

On the Gulf of Mexico near Siesta Key: sailing the high seas near sunset on a day that’s divine—until you turn your back.

 

Lakewood Ranch luxury: remember the movie “Play ‘Misty’ for Me”? You may never go near a soaking tub again.

 

Myakka River State Park: the mysterious woods (and the alligators of Deep Hole) beckon the unsuspecting.

 

Dark side of the sun

Curb Appeal, the third novel in the CW McCoy series about a detective turned real estate agent, may be fiction but it has its foundation in reality. And while the book isn’t based on a specific crime, it was spurred by a dangerous trend in a seemingly benign industry.

According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), nearly 40 percent of Realtors report that they have experienced a work-related situation that made them fear for their safety. In 2013, 25 real estate professionals were the victims of homicide, according to the latest figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Crime against agents is not a new phenomenon. In the decade between 2003 and 2012, the bureau reported an average of 17 real estate homicides per year. It is, however, one that continues to threaten the industry. In the final weeks of 2016, two real estate agents were shot and killed while showing homes in Georgia and Texas, according to the NAR.

Set in a fictional city on Florida’s Gulf Coast, Curb Appeal opens with CW (Candace) McCoy discovering the naked body of a rival real estate agent, a black bra wrapped around her neck. It’s the least of CW’s problems. The hot new cop she’s dating may face assault charges. Relations with both her best friend and mentor have frayed. And back-to-back hurricanes threaten to flatten a city groaning under the weight of over-development.

As the deception and bodies mount, CW must uncover the truth about her friends, her lover and a serial killer bent on murdering fellow agents . . . before she becomes a victim herself.

Curb Appeal is the third outing with CW, after Peak Season and Tourist in Paradise. The novel is available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes and Kobo, as well as bookstores everywhere.

Out with the in crowd

For CW McCoy, appearance aren’t just deceptive. They’re deadly. Which is why the former detective turned real estate agent can trust no one, including herself, in Curb Appeal, her third adventure exploring the dark side of the Sunshine State.

While showing a mansion on tony Spanish Key, CW discovers the naked body of a rival real estate agent, a black bra wrapped around her neck.

It’s the least of CW’s problems. The hot new cop she’s dating may face assault charges. Relations with both her best friend and mentor have frayed. And back-to-back hurricanes threaten to flatten the coast.

As the deception and bodies mount, CW must uncover the truth about her friends, her lover and a serial killer bent on murdering fellow agents . . . before she becomes a victim herself.

Curb Appeal will be published on June 7 but you can preorder the e-book version through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes and Kobo.

 

In search of the real McCoy

UK blogger Natalie Rowe, who gave Peak Season four stars, thinks Mila Kunis should play CW McCoy . . . if Candace and her crew ever make it to the big screen.

Natalie writes, “The thing that is most memorable to me about CW is her quick wit. To me, there is no other person that could give CW this unique sarcasm like Mila Kunis can in her roles. She can play the bad-ass independent lady but also add in a little sass and seductiveness.”

Sassy and seductive. . . . Is that how you see the young former detective who faces down kidnappers, assassins and tourists on a daily basis? And here I was thinking Scarlett Johansson on a motorcycle. Or Six Feet Under’s Rachel Anne Griffiths, or is that over the top?

Who do you think should play CW? Leave your comments here.

Back to the Future

Working on Curb Appeal, the third novel in the CW McCoy series (after Peak Season and Tourist in Paradise), I realize that I write backwards.

In school, we learned to organize our material using an outline. I’ve adopted that technique to sort large amounts of material when writing nonfiction. The tool came in handy when I worked for Mack Trucks and had to find a lead buried in hours of interviews. I used a highlighter and flagged passages that were important to the telling of the story, writing subheads for those highlights and prioritizing them so they flowed in a logical way.

Digging out the nuggets from a pile of information seemed a more organic process than writing an outline. The process allowed the structure of the piece to grow from the material, the research and interviews from primary sources. But when it comes to fiction, I seem unable to follow that scholarly advice.

I write backwards.

Yes, I have a solid idea of the nature of the characters and the arc of the story, but I don’t know the exact scope and sequence of the work. I discover that as I write.

And then I write the outline. In fiction, it’s called a synopsis, a summary that’s written with the same flavor as the novel. It’s longer than a logline and shorter than a chapter-by-chapter description of character and action. But, like a GPS device, it can keep me on track.

Do you write forward or backwards?

Behind the scenes

Location plays a vital part in any novel, especially novels of mystery and suspense. I’ve written about place as character several times but now, thanks to author and blogger Lorna Holland of Northamptonshire UK, my musings on crime scenes in sunny Florida have made it to the other side of the pond.

The marina in Sarasota, Florida provided the inspiration for the CW McCoy novels

The marina in Sarasota, Florida provided the inspiration for the CW McCoy novels

 

The Real McCoy

Many places have informed the CW McCoy crime series. While the books are set in the fictional Florida coastal town of Spanish Point, both Sarasota city and county provided much of the inspiration for Candace and her cast.

Over the past five years, I’ve taken hundreds of photos throughout the region, focusing on the places where CW, Walter Bishop and others might live, work and do their worst. From the office building of One Sarasota Tower to the Sunday night drum circle on Siesta Beach, they illustrate the lives of people struggling to adjust to a changing world. (Full disclosure: I didn’t take the photo of kd Lang, although I did see Tony Bennett in concert at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Center in Sarasota.)

I’ve enjoyed reviewing the images that inspired Peak Season and Tourist in Paradise. I thought you might enjoy them, too.

Tony Bennett and kd lang make their debut in crime fiction in “Peak Season.”

 

Anna Maria Island City Pier, one of the models for Spanish Point Fish Camp in both CW McCoy novels

Anna Maria Island City Pier, one of the models for Spanish Point Fish Camp in both CW McCoy novels

 

Mascot of the Sarasota Sheriff’s Office Animal Services unit, Sugar Bear is the model for the abandoned dog in “Tourist in Paradise”

Mascot of the Sarasota Sheriff’s Office Animal Services unit, Sugar Bear is the model for the abandoned dog in “Tourist in Paradise”

 

Sarasota’s Bayfront Park, where Bobby Lee Darby meets his fate in “Peak Season”

Sarasota’s Bayfront Park, where Bobby Lee Darby meets his fate in “Peak Season”

 

One Sarasota Tower, model for offices of Mitch Palmer and Casey Laine in CW McCoy novels

One Sarasota Tower, model for offices of Mitch Palmer and Casey Laine in CW McCoy novels

 

Bradenton Riverwalk, the inspiration for Baywalk in “Peak Season”

Bradenton’s Riverwalk, the inspiration for Baywalk in “Peak Season”

John Ringling’s Cà d’Zan, site of attack on Tommy Thompson’s condo project in “Tourist in Paradise”

John Ringling’s Cà d’Zan, site of attack on Tommy Thompson’s condo project in “Tourist in Paradise”

 

 

Darkness descends on the Sunshine State

Someone has declared war on Florida’s tourists. And caught in the crosshairs is CW McCoy, the retired female detective desperately trying to lead a normal life as a real estate agent in tony Spanish Point.

She does, until that someone comes gunning for her.

As if a midnight carjacking isn’t enough trauma, CW must deal with savage punks, corrupt politicians, an errant lover and a disease that is rapidly obliterating her beloved grandfather.

Welcome to Tourist in Paradise, the sequel to Peak Season, the book that kicked off the CW McCoy series of crime novels. The sequel debuted this week in trade paper and ebook formats through Amazon, iTunes and Barnes & Noble. But fans of the spunky sleuth who are eager to read about her troubled past and doubtful future can read the full first chapter of Tourist in Paradise here.

Enjoy.

1.

THE AIR FELT THICK and wet. Lightning slashed the clouds and thunder detonated over the Gulf of Mexico. In the rental lot of the Spanish Point International Airport, palm trees swayed like frat boys. Mercury vapor lights buzzed. The sky dropped another foot.

A hard rain was gonna fall.

By the time Walter Bishop dropped me off at the car rental counter, the display on my cellphone read 12:01 a.m. Despite the hour, the rental agent looked crisp in white shirt and black slacks. Tall, early twenties, with black hair slicked forward in a rapper quiff. His nametag read Ken. No Barbie in sight.

The agent stood at a computer terminal in front of a banner that read, “Spanish Point—Welcome to Paradise.” The photo showed a man in a white shirt, striped tie and madras shorts leaping through the surf with a smiling woman and young girl, both in swimsuits and sarongs. At least the women had dressed the part.

Ken handed over the keys and a copy of the paperwork. “Here you are, Ms. McCoy. You’re in Number Three. Enjoy your stay.”

He smiled. He had a right to look happy. This was Southwest Florida after one of the worst winters on record, when tourists had fled south like refugees. I should have been happy, too, because I’d moved to this beach town two years ago, although trouble with money and men had thrown a bit of sand in my face.

I considered correcting Ken’s assumption that I was a visitor—he should have known, he’d looked at my license—but I kept that thought to myself. Score one for self-restraint.

Walter had the parking lot to himself. Leaning against his gold Mercury Grand Marquis, arms folded, jaws snapping gum, he looked every inch the former state police commander and proud owner of a forty-one-foot sloop. Not exactly your typical beach bum, he still carried a weapon. Louie, his vintage black Labrador Retriever, stood on the passenger seat with his head hanging out the window. All this time in the South and Louie didn’t know better than to wear black.

I walked to slot number three and beeped the remote of a white car that could have passed for a Hyundai, Toyota, Ford or an enameled rickshaw. The front looked like the helmet of an imperial storm trooper. The back bore a Florida license plate.

Walter walked to the car. Last winter, while helping me take down an enraged investor in a bank-fraud scheme, he took a bullet in the thigh. He still walked with a slight limp, but when I’d asked how he felt, he’d always say, “Fine.”

I slid into the seat and started the car. “Why is it that half the rental tags in this state begin with the letter J?”

“They used to begin with Y and Z, until the governor banned the practice.”

“Why?” Even after midnight, the August heat made my clothes feel like a sausage casing. I cranked the knob for AC. The system fought back with a blast of hot air.

“Carjackings and robberies near Miami International.”

I adjusted the mirrors. “How’d that work?”

“Gangs would tail a tourist out of the airport based on stickers and tags. They’d bump the car from behind. Tourist pulls over, puts up a fight, gets popped.” Walter snapped his gum for emphasis.

In the distance, thunder rolled off the horizon. “When was this?”

“Nineteen ninety-two, right after Hurricane Andrew.”

The air blowing out of the vents smelled like the wrong end of a vacuum cleaner. I adjusted the fins and clicked on the headlights.

Walter leaned on the doorframe. “So tell me why you need a rental.”

“I’m showing a house.”

“You always rent cars at midnight?”

The sky crept closer to the ground. I looked for the stalk that controlled the windshield wipers and sighed. “I got a last-minute call to show a condo on Spanish Key and had to return Cheryl’s car. You’d think the cops would let her take a patrol wagon home for the night.”

He crossed his arms and grinned. “You’re diligent.”

“I’m broke, remember?”

“What happened to the SUV?”

“I loaned it to someone.”

“To whom did you loan it?” His grin tempered the mocking tone, but only a bit.

“Chet.”

He smiled to reveal a gap in his top teeth and curled two fingers in a “come on and spill it” gesture.

The car’s clock read 12:06 a.m., the temperature gauge eighty-six. I sighed. “You’re not going to let go of this bone, are you?”

He shook his head.

“Chet, my auto body guy.”

“Ah.” His smile grew wider. “And what did you hit this time?”

“A pole, all right? I was pulling out of the marina lot—you know they won’t let you back in—and this sign came out of nowhere and clipped the bumper. Totally did not look where it was going.”

He laughed and walked to the Merc. “I’ll follow you home. Wouldn’t want you to get ambushed by a traffic light.”

I slammed the door with enough force to fly the rivets back to South Korea and headed down the access road to University Parkway, one of the main East-West highways in Spanish Point. We sailed across the railroad tracks and into the northern part of the city, encountering little traffic at this time and season, when well-heeled residents traveled to cooler climes and the tourists headed back to Canada and the Continent.

The few houses here stood far apart, guarded by cement-block walls with peeling white paint. Not the sign of a prosperous neighborhood. I rarely showed property this far north. The rich retirees preferred gated communities and five-acre ranches east of I-75. I preferred them, too, since I worked on commission.

At the cross street I hung a right onto Orange Avenue and headed south into a fist of rain. Fat drops smacked the windshield, then ratcheted up the volume. I checked the mirror. Walter hung back so far his headlights had disappeared.

The street numbers had dropped from the fifties to the thirties when a car fell in behind me. I glanced in the mirror and saw its glittering image edge closer. When I slowed to let it pass, the car lurched forward and rammed the back of the rental, not enough to set off the airbag but hard enough to jar my teeth.

I jammed the brakes. “What the . . .” I yelled as a black Honda with tinted windows and dual exhaust pipes spun a hundred and eighty degrees and came to rest twenty feet in front of the car, blocking the road and blinding me with its high beams.

A short black kid in a hooded sweatshirt and jeans bounded from the passenger side, raising a handgun as he ran. Hands and eyes, eyes and hands, I reminded myself. Watch the eyes and hands. My heart thundered, my vision narrowing to focus on the weapon. Ducking beneath the dashboard, I searched my ankle for the Beretta .25 only to remember I hadn’t carried since I’d shot that officer in Pennsylvania. I came up to see the black kid pointing the gun at my head and screaming for me to get out of the car.

Things happened fast. I heard Walter yell “Freeze!” and the black kid fired a round that splintered the windshield. Another shot slammed the kid’s shoulder and took him to the pavement. I looked for the driver, a light-skinned male, his features obscured by the blinding headlights. He glanced at his buddy, ground the gears and barreled north, forcing Walter into the ditch.

The kid on the highway rolled in pain. Walter climbed onto the crown of the road and kicked the boy’s weapon out of reach, then backed away and asked, “You all right?”

“Yeah,” I said. My breath felt ragged. I inhaled deeply, willing my heart to slow. “You get the tag?”

“Enough,” he said.

My stomach clenched as Walter moved his gun toward me but he must have changed his mind about asking me to hold the weapon. Flipping open his cell phone, he called 9‑1‑1, asked for police and fire rescue and disconnected.

The kid hugged himself and moaned and rocked on the double yellow line just as the sky opened wide, the rain mixing with blood as it soaked his clothes.

“We need to help,” I said.

With his weapon trained on the boy, Walter tossed his keys to me. “There’s a first-aid kit in the trunk.”

Arms shaking, I grabbed a checkered blanket and red plastic box marked with a white cross and knelt near the boy. He looked about fifteen with a scraggly mustache and a burst of acne on his forehead. With his high top fade, he resembled Will Smith in the “Fresh Prince of Bel Air.”

As shock set in, the kid stopped yelling and stared at me with eyes the size of quarters. Walter had shot him in the meaty part of the right shoulder, as far away from the heart as he could and still hit body mass. I cut away the shirt and, using scissors, tape and a large square of gauze, pressed the makeshift bandage to the wound. He groaned when I tipped him onto his side. The exit wound looked worse. Cutting away the shirt, I stretched the remaining gauze over the hole and taped it to his skin. The patches wouldn’t stop the bleeding but they’d slow it.

Leaning back on my heels, I glanced up at Walter. He stood ramrod straight, gun at his side, a living shadow backlit by the headlights. Between us, rain pelted the pavement, turning the stones to shards of glass.

I bent my head toward the kid. “Why’d you come after us?”

He stared over my shoulder, eyes glazed, blood trickling from a bitten lip. I pulled the blanket over his torso, propped his head on the plastic case and tucked the cloth underneath. Then I backed up to where Walter stood.

“He’s not going anywhere,” I said and heard a faint tremble in my voice.

“Trust but verify.”

“You going to toe him in the ribs to make sure?”

Without taking his eyes from the kid he holstered his gun. “How’s the car?”

“Drivable, if you don’t mind bullet holes.” Rain streamed through my hair and soaked my collar.

He shook his head. “You know what this is about?”

“Robbery for drug money?”

He glanced at me. “Anyone after you?”

I shook my head. “Does he look like a pro?”

“They had to pass me to follow you.”

In the distance, sirens split the air. I leaned against the rental to steady my legs and felt the water soak my pants. “What do you think?”

He stared over my shoulder into the dark. “It’s starting again.”

Dark night of the American Dream

A savage attack. A corrupt politician. A war on tourists . . . and within herself.

CW McCoy faces a barrage of challenges that threaten to overwhelm her in Tourist in Paradise, the sequel to last year’s Peak Season, the novel that marked the debut of the scrappy former detective who battles punks and politicians to head off a full-blown war in Southwest Florida.

Watch the video trailer for the novel here or on YouTube.

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