The Edna Buchanan Effect?

I don't know what's in the water (or the estrogen) around here, but in South Florida right now a handful of journalistas are lighting up the newspapers in the crime-writing department. From the Herald you have this generation's grande dame of the genre, Wanda DeMarzo. She's relentless, has the best sources in the business, and often goes in unpredictable directions. Like this week, when she wrote the creepy and offbeat story about a blood-drenched house in West Park.

Also at the Herald, you never know when Jennifer Lebovich, Stephanie Chen, or Elaine de Valle is going to hit you with a mean little crime ditty. All of them show that drive -- which I think exists in only about 15 percent of the people in the news business -- to not just get the story but the story's jugular. It may come only in a telling quote or seemingly random detail, but you often get that jolt of recognition when you read them. Suddenly the newspaper seems REAL for at least a fleeting moment.

And the greatest new development in South Florida crime writing would be the emergence of Stephanie Slater and Rochelle E.B. Gilken at the Palm Beach Post. Look, I don't need to throw a lot of words at you about them. Just read this morning's harrowing house fire story by Gilken. She killed it, as usual. And Behind The Yellow Tape, which is a tag-team effort by Gilken and Slater, has become my favorite daily newspaper blog.

Again, any praise I can give would seem meaningless next to the most recent post by Slater, a jailhouse interview with one of the accused killers of Curious George co-writer Alan Shalleck. She introduces us to evil. His name is Rex Ditto and he has an IQ somewhere south of George Bush's approval rating. It was done exclusively for the blog and includes one of the ten most eerie mug shots I've ever seen (it's Ditto's co-defendant, Vincent Puglisi, and ain't it weirdly similar to that pulp cover above?).

It's enough to make Edna proud.

Don't Criticize It Other than Gilken's scorcher, nothing much caught my eye in the dailies today, but I was struck by a quote in the aforementioned Chen's story on a father named Miguel Duque who was busted for having 183 pot plants in his home.

''They were quiet neighbors, a happy family,'' said Lemoine, 48, shaking his head. ''I come home for break and find a plantation of marijuana. Unbelievable.''

That's right, Miguel was a VERY happy family man. But why jail him for that and deprive a three-year-old girl her father? Sure it was an excessive amount of pot. I suppose he was trying to make a go at self-employment, also known as the American Dream. It's a damn plant people and it's not even close to being as damaging to the planet or to people as oil or half the pharmaceuticals on the market. Plus, it's made milions of taxpaying responsible adults happy for a very long time. What's this I hear about America being a free country? Legalize it.

And free El Duque!

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Journalist Bob Norman has been raking the muck of South Florida for the past 25 years. His work has led to criminal cases against corrupt politicians, the ouster of bad judges from the bench, and has garnered dozens of state, regional, and national awards.
Contact: Bob Norman