“Life and Death on the Tamiami Trail,” by Sheila Marie Palmer. CreateSpace. 366 pages. $14.99 from Amazon.com, Kindle ebook $9.99.
I would have called it “The Sheriffs and the Gypsies.” Certainly this book, disguised, ornamented memoir presented as fiction, is better than the unpromising title it wears.
From the vantage point of a mid-1980s murder case, Sheila Marie Palmer launches what amounts to a cultural history of semi-rural Sarasota County. It’s the first book I’ve read set in this part of Florida that isn’t busy with marinas, sport fishing, and transplanted retirees; with upscale eateries, tourists, and second home ex-urbanites. Ms. Palmer’s tale takes us through several decades in a place that is rooted in neighborhood friendships and simple, unpretentious lifestyles. A place that may no longer exist.
The protagonist, Sheriff Bernie Raines, has spent her life there. Raised in a somewhat friendly compound of small apartment-homes called Attwood’s Place, she had the somewhat unusual experience of living in a n area that also was the home of a Gypsy clan. Her childhood friend was a boy named Zindelo, grandson of the Dukker, the clan patriarch. Many of these colorful people had circus jobs.
Bernie must investigate the murder of a mob-connected criminal, Antonio Verde. When the immediate and only suspect turns out to be Bernie’s childhood friend, Zindelo, she isn’t sure how to react. Perhaps she should remove herself from the case. Instead, she chooses to enlist the assistance of Buck Davis, sheriff of neighboring DeSoto County. Buck is already more than a fellow professional and more than a friend.
As the unfolding present dramatizes the investigation, providing authoritative details about procedural matters, flashbacks amplify the world of Bernie’s youth and the history of the region. It also amplifies much about Gypsy lore that is alternately charming and unsettling. That same forward motion, as you might have guessed, builds the deepening relationship between Buck and Bernie. The rumors blossoming around them are somewhat ahead of the progress of their romance, but the romance is catching fire.
Poor dead Antonio Verde is a man from Chicago who has been implicated in mob activities. What was he doing in Sarasota? He owns a piece of property there, but he’s been a shadow – hardly known by anyone. What got him killed? And, if it isn’t Zindelo, who is the killer?
The answer has something to do with Bernie’s recurrent daydreams, dreams and nightmares. Something has kindled her memory of things past – no doubt the presence of Dukker and Zindelo is the primary spark. However hard Bernie tries, there is a veil that her memory can’t pierce.
Dukker has suggested to Bernie that she had better conclude her investigation within a week. Just what will happen if she doesn’t is not clear, but the mild threat puts additional pressure on her. So do certain strange occurrences that seem to be aimed at frightening or harming her. . . .
To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the July 25, 2012 issue of the Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the July 26 issues of the Naples, Bonita Springs, and Spacecoast editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Sheila Palmer