Deadly Sweet by Watson Sterling

Eddie Priest was a lawyer. Now he’s a hard drinking boat salesman and restorer, the latter chiefly of his own boat purchased sight unseen, with all the structural issues that suggests–hence its name.

Corey Darrow, auburn tressed green-eyed beauty, lightly leaps onto the Sight Unseen one day; she has been referred to him for help by Raymer Harmey, an acquaintance of Eddie’s who stuck with law enforcement. Corey’s worried about a botanist who went missing after he inquired at her office with the Water Management Department, a file that went missing from her computer shortly afterwards, sexual harassment following close on the heels of her expressing her concerns…not to mention the fact that she herself is being followed/stalked by a “darkly tanned” man in sunglasses who drives an outdated Caddy. Eddie demurs, insofar as a gun-toting tough guy of his type can do such a delicate gesture, despite the afternoon he spent skinnydipping (and other adult activities) on a picnic with Corey.

He’s sucked into the investigation willy-nilly when Corey Darrow is found drowned with a .357 Magnum locked in her fist, after her baby-blue Ford truck ran off the road into a swampy ditch. Or rather, when Corey’s twin sister, Sawney, comes sauntering into Eddie’s favorite gin mill dive to beg him to avenge her sister’s death.

Harry W. Feather, part-Indian, is working for Lofton Coltis, proudly pure Anglo and the local land baron–it is on Coltis’s land that a medical botanist (later found dead) discovered a plant (presumably still alive at the end of the book) thought only to grow in the Amazonian rain forest along with all the other phenomenally useful botanic specimens found there. Harry starts getting nervous when the police come sniffing around after he messes with Corey just a little too hard the night she died, and rushes off to the one lone body shop in town capable of repainting his Caddy where he bumped into Corey’s truck. The body shop owner, who is also the town’s only tow truck driver, puts two and two together when he realizes that the paint smudge on Harry’s car matches the paint on Corey’s car, and vice versa.

…and yes, if you’ve started guessing about the connection between Darrow and Feather and Coltis, with a few side bets on who lives and who dies at whose hand, you’re pretty much right.

Gators and swamps and long-legged beauties; big cars, handguns and gas guzzlers. Thugs and politicians1. Native Americans. Florida panthers. Steamy velvety dark nights, manly swaggering and fast car chases. This is dudelit if I ever saw it2; it’s an action-packed thriller with all the atmospheric swampiness one might expect from a book set in Fla’da. Reading it, I felt that I should have been sitting in a tent of mosquito netting imbued with full-strength DEET.

What to read next? Oddly, I first thought of John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee series, though that’s largely due to the Florida backdrop, the protagonist’s ownership of a boat, and…well, the general dudelit air of the series, not to mention the protagonist who lives on a boat and who has an eye for the ladies.

1stop laughing. There is a difference. No, really.
2to the best of my knowledge, that’s not a real literary term, but I think it should be. Surely there’s a category of Manly Testosterone-Laden books to serve as a counterpoint to all the chicklit in which everyone has feelings but never does anything

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