Love and Death in the Sunshine State: The Story of a Crime by Cutter Wood (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, $26.99, 225 pages)
This book arrived at the right time. I had just finished reading a true crime book and found it to be sadly disappointing. The writer put down all the facts about a triple murderer and his trial but seemingly without context. When one sentence follows another in this manner – without drama, suspense or the seeming presence of actual people, it’s far less than engaging.
Cutter Wood’s book, Love and Death in the Sunshine State, is like the antidote to the typical true crime story. Wood, an MFA graduate in nonfiction from the University of Iowa, touched base with all of the principals about a murder that he felt somewhat connected with. You see, after graduating from Brown he felt directionless – like Benjamin in The Graduate, so he spent months at a secluded hotel in Florida. The woman who ran the hotel with her husband later disappeared and Wood was determined to get to the bottom of the mystery.
Wood knew some of the principals involved and was also given access to law enforcement officials and the man suspected of killing the missing woman. But once the crime was solved, Wood felt that little was resolved. The facts did not seem to add up to a whole, complete story. Therefore, he elected to pursue a unique option.
Instead of writing a dry nonfiction account of the crime, Wood decided to write a fictional version of a relationship between a former criminal and a successful married businesswoman whose lives intersected. It’s a story of an unlikely attraction, a loving relationship, and a tragic ending. Wood never attempts to explain the crime or the murderer’s mind, but paints the events – both real and imaginary – as something that was fated to occur.
As Wood is free to explore events and scenarios that may or may not have played out, he develops a story that feels fully real. This is not Law and Order – a stereotypical version of crime and justice, nor is it a fly-over account of a crime developed for a one hour cable TV network show. It is a story of two imperfect people who were drawn to each other for all of the wrong reasons.
By leaving out some of the seemingly critical crime details and facts that would be highlighted in the standard true crime book sold in an airport gift shop, Wood proves again that less is more. His “story of a crime” focuses on the small yet significant aspects of the lives of two people. In doing so, he brings the individuals to life and causes us to mourn – in a quiet, dignified way, the loss of one of them.
It’s a sad, tough story but Cutter Wood takes the reader to the heart of the matter. His is a respectful approach to human imperfection and frailty.
I look forward to reading Wood’s future works.
Love and Death in the Sunshine State will be released on April 17, 2018.
A review copy was provided by the publisher.