For the second installment of his Tampa Bay Tropics series, novelist George L. Fleming focused on perhaps the most despicable of all contemporary crimes: Human sex trafficking.
“I felt it’s probably been done over and over,” explains the author of 2019’s Bad Habits, “and I wanted to have a new take on it. I wanted a kind of new Montezuma’s Revenge, where this time it’s Mexicans who are trafficking in Americans and sending them into slavery in Mexico. I just thought that would be a different kind of twist.”
The book, published this week by St. Petersburg Press, is Don Coyote. Like its predecessor, it’s a taut thriller set in Tampa Bay, with familiar settings and landmarks.
As its centerpiece, the title character is a Mexican drug trafficker-turned-slavemaster who’s come to Florida to mastermind a sinister plot with revenge as a side dish, served cold.
For Fleming, a former journalist and writing instructor, each book – his plan is to write 20 novels over a 20-year span – begins with a single idea or image.
“I simply begin the story and see where it takes me,” he says. “Sometimes I paint myself right into a corner, and I like to see how I can get out of it. But with Don Coyote, it was a photograph that I saw on board the Oasis of the Seas during a cruise. It was of these two sisters; they looked almost like twins. It was an extraordinary photograph.
“It just came to me, that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to have twin sisters get kidnapped. And it just went forward after that.”
Don Coyote is a continuation of Bad Habits in that its lusty protagonists are attorney Reed O’Hara – brilliant, beautiful and deadly – and her hunk of a husband, former CIA operative Jake Dupree.
The couple live an upscale life. By night, they own a cabaret, the most popular in Tampa. Namaste is a supper club with semi-nude entertainment, provided by women the couple have “rescued” from prostitution, drug addiction and worse, accompanied by Jake, who also happens to be a gifted pianist and composer. It’s a class joint all the way.
By day, Reed and Jake are private investigators. Many of the Namaste employees – the sexier, the better, for Fleming’s purposes – are also involved with their P.I. work.
“My confidence level rose tremendously after finishing Bad Habits,” Fleming says. “I finally figured out that I knew what I was doing here. And then I realized my God, these characters are taking on a life of their own.
“But there had to be a plausible explanation for Reed O’Hara and Jake Dupree to get involved in the rescuing of the twin sisters.”
Fleming doesn’t begin with a story outline, preferring instead to let the plot tell him where it needs to go next. He does, however, refer to Google for intense research when it’s necessary.
For Don Coyote, among the things he studied: The effect on humans of tea made from angel’s trumpet, a flower sometimes used as a psychotropic drug, combined with cyclobenzaprine.
Still, “I’m about to turn 64, so I have a wellspring of experience as well!” he laughs. “So many of the elements in the novel are not the result of research, but the result of my experience. A lot of the places and the people, a lot of that is just my own experience.”
Reed O’Hara, in fact, is based on the novelist’s wife, Tampa heath care attorney Linda Fleming.
He’s already well into his third book, which he’s calling Blood Harmony.
“This will be the first time that Reed O’Hara goes up against a female antagonist,” Fleming explains. “Her name is Raven Doyle, and she is gonna give Reed everything that she wants and more. Raven Doyle is going to be the most formidable foe that Reed has ever seen.”
St. Petersburg Press is a division of the St. Petersburg Group, which owns the St. Pete Catalyst.