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Dee for Death

When James Lauzerne explored Ernest Hemingway's Key West home this past October, he spotted a copy of The Exile, a thin literary review from the late 1920s. The journal, created and edited by Ezra Pound, featured Hemingway's writing. "I saw this thing lying there in a glass case... I couldn't pick it up and thumb through it like I wanted to. It was just a paperback little journal," Lauzerne says. "Seeing that in Hemingway's house was kind of a genesis."

Almost six months later -- on "the ides of March," Lauzerne specifies -- his writing group published volume 1, number 1 of the Middle River Review. The 46-page paperback, with its robin's egg-blue cover, showcases the beginning chapters of five unpublished crime novels: The Silicon Veil by Bob Bellinger, The Bank Robber by Johnny Dee, The Park by Craig Jordan, The Spree by Lauzerne, and The Speed of Souls by Rick Sherman.

Perhaps the eruption of vintage Miami-style crimes in Broward County has left Fort Lauderdale's aspiring scribes intoxicated. Following the recent Mafia-like hit on business mogul Gus Boulis and last year's dead-prostitutes-in-suitcases monstrosity, how could local writers not catch the crime-writing bug that has so masterfully infected Miami greats Edna Buchanan, Carl Hiaasen, James Hall, and Charles Willeford? Members of the 15-month-old Middle River Writer's Group pen fiction in several genres. However they all happened to be working on crime novels when Hemingway's ghost urged Lauzerne to compile the Review.

Each author contributed $50 toward the printing of 250 copies of the Review; Archives BookCafe at the Gateway Shopping Center in Fort Lauderdale footed the rest of the $380 bill. The group charges 94 cents per copy -- one buck with sales tax. So far the blue books are available only at Archives, site of the group's twice-monthly meetings.

Bellinger's clipped, straightforward style -- probably born from years as a technical writer and editor -- invokes the Dragnet theme song. "It is so different to write nonfiction and fiction," says Bellinger. "Nothing is the same." The author has salt-and-pepper hair and a soft voice. His novel, which he started after moving to South Florida from Long Island two years ago, tells the story of Kevin Burkett, a gruff police sergeant who loses his sight after a gang of thugs shoots him in the head. This excerpt depicts Burkett's reaction after a doctor tells him his blindness is permanent:

Brutal. With those words, I understood what "guilty' must mean to a man on trial for his life: confinement. They have passed judgment in the court of Santa Clara General Hospital that Sgt. Kevin Burkett, San Moro P.S., shall hereby, now and forever, be locked up in a world of greyness, with no lines, no faces, no borders. What did the chipper social worker call me the day after they broke the news? "Spesshiallll," she said, essesses and aitches frothing from her mouth, words that wrapped a pink ribbon around a box of dog-doo.

Special. Being a cop is special. Being a blind cop is being perpetually congratulated, encouraged, braced up and cheered up when you feel none of that. I am in the way. I fall over chairs. I get lost in hallways I've walked thousands of times before. Once I peed into a sink, not for the first time, but this time was an accident.

Dee introduces himself to New Times in a low, gravelly voice as "Johnny Dee. Dee [pause] for death." Then his eyes dance in a wry half-smile. Dee says he has spent his free time at work writing 800 longhand pages about John Donohue, a real-life New York City bank robber. The aspiring novelist, who rents out canoes at West Lake Park in Hollywood, moved from Manhattan's Hell's Kitchen to Fort Lauderdale a few years ago. His book, he says, is neither historical fiction nor nonfiction. It is, he explains in his slow, even cadence, fictionalized nonfiction. "I'm giving it a lot of muscle," he says. "I'm familiar with the characters. I've known the criminals since I was a little kid. I've drank with people who books and movies were made about."

Tall with dirty-blond hair, Dee says he had been thinking about writing The Bank Robber for a long while. "I'm a storyteller. I've been a storyteller for many years. Many years ago someone said, "Did you ever think about writing?'" he says slowly. "One day I just sat down and started writing."

This excerpt describes the childhood of Donohue, who grew up in the same time and place as Dee:

John was born in New York City, in the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood, in 1942. The first child of Irish immigrants, he gravitated to the criminal element in the area before he even began grammar school.

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Emily Bliss

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