Hemingway Deadlights

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It is 1956 and Hemingway has spent much of the year at his home in Key West, hiding from tourists and autograph hunters. But a friend’s sudden death rouses Papa from his idyll. To say that the cause of death is suspicious is to put it lightly. It’s not every day that a part-time smuggler is impaled on a harpoon.

A witty, literate, and action-filled debut, Hemingway Deadlights catches the famed author in his later years, battling to solve the ...

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Hemingway Deadlights: A Mystery

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It is 1956 and Hemingway has spent much of the year at his home in Key West, hiding from tourists and autograph hunters. But a friend’s sudden death rouses Papa from his idyll. To say that the cause of death is suspicious is to put it lightly. It’s not every day that a part-time smuggler is impaled on a harpoon.

A witty, literate, and action-filled debut, Hemingway Deadlights catches the famed author in his later years, battling to solve the injustices in a flawed world.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Set in 1956, Atkinson’s rollicking, if at times improbable debut neatly captures the personality and uproarious lifestyle of an American literary icon. When Key West fisherman Peter Cuthbert, a friend of Ernest “Papa” Hemingway, gets harpooned to death and the local police don’t seem to care, Hemingway, who’s suffering from writer’s block and feeling like “a big, fake water buffalo con artist,” decides to find Cuthbert’s killer. The Nobel Prize winner’s daring quest takes him to Batista’s impoverished Cuba, where he meets such luminaries as high-living mobster Meyer Lansky and even Fidel Castro in the revolutionary’s mountain hideaway. From Che Guevara he learns Cuthbert was anything but an ordinary fisherman. Back in Key West, Hemingway finds himself caught in a spat between the FBI and the CIA, who are both funding Batista’s corrupt government. Atkinson, a former film critic, deftly mixes fact and fiction with graphic sex and violence in a mystery sure to please Hemingway aficionados. (Aug.)
Library Journal

Set in 1956, this first outing in a new series featuring Ernest Hemingway as sleuth finds the graying Nobel laureate with his leg in a plaster cast after getting plastered and falling off the roof of his Key West home where he's holed up for some creative drinking away from the sour, disapproving gaze of A'berbitch wife Mary (a wonderfully nasty characterization) back in Cuba. His quiet bender, alas, soon is rudely disrupted by the unusual murder of a fisherman/smuggler crony. Angered by the cops' shelving the case, Papa takes up the trail, leading him through a dizzying maze of Hungarian thugs, the CIA, FBI, Fidel and Che, horny coeds, amorous spies, and the mob, during which he's threatened, chased, followed, kidnapped, and shot at-and that's nothing compared to what Mary wants to do to him! Atkinson knows his subject well but has come neither to praise nor bury Hemingway, who is fat, stubborn, violent, tough, crafty, and alcoholic, but has a sense of friendship and justice. With equal doses of mystery and espionage, the story also is presented with great humor. This is a tasty cocktail of suspense, sex, laughs, and literature. Though Hemingway didn't do these things, he damn well should have. Mystery readers will love it. [See Rogers's LJXpress interview with Atkinson at http://tinyurl.com/cuncdv.-Ed.]
—Mike Rogers

Kirkus Reviews
With the Nobel Prize safely his and no new book percolating, Papa can turn his attention to the strange case of the harpooned friend. When law enforcement comes calling on Ernest Hemingway in Key West, it gets a welcome warmer than it might have expected. Relatively sober at this moment in 1956, between projects and without an important woman in his life, the 58-year-old author is disposed to listen with particular interest to the tale of the late Peter Cuthbert, who was apparently speared by a king-sized harpoon. Why does this demise, piquant as it is, bring the police to Papa's door? Phone-company records indicate that on the night of his death, Cuthbert had attempted without success to reach his friend Hemingway. Actually, friend overstates the case-occasional drinking companion would be more precise-but the writer decides to take his death personally. Cuthbert may have been little more than a petty criminal (and a pretty good watercolorist): still, attention must be paid. Haphazardly, boozily, Hemingway launches an investigation during which he confronts, among other notables, a young Fidel Castro, who tells Papa that his reasons for nosing around seem "a little thin, a little airy." A palpable hit, Fidel. Former Village Voice film critic Atkinson writes well, but you really have to like his Hemingway-no easy task-for this debut effort to work. Agent: Barbara Braun/Barbara Braun Associates
From the Publisher


"What would a genre mystery by Ernest Hemingway read like? Say, a story about a heavy-drinking, womanizing, professional frustrated amateur sleuth in Key West and Cuba? Great characters, great setup—what's that, you say? Hemingway Deadlights is not by him, but about him? Wow. Just, wow. You could've fooled me."

—Laurie R. King


"Atkinson packs Hemingway Deadlights with hilarious dialogue, irreverent literary shoptalk, and so much excellent sun-soaked atmosphere that you'd best consume it along with a few pitchers of something cool."

—Ed Park, author of Personal Days


"Michael Atkinson has crafted a hard-boiled mystery drenched in Tequila and scorched by the blazing Key West sun. That Ernest Hemingway, with his volatile temper, ready fists and emotional entanglements, would take on a murder investigation when one of his drinking buddies is mysteriously killed, makes for the most fascinating amateur sleuth to hit the pages since the invention of the gin and tonic. Atkinson mixes in politics, Cuban revolutionaries, crime bosses, and literary giants of the twentieth century with a deft hand, creating a vision of Papa Hemingway pursuing a seemingly lost cause in the winter of his life."

—James R. Benn, author of Billy Boyle


"This mystery certainly gave me everything I wanted in spades....A terrific book."

Mystery News Magazine


"Atkinson gives us Hemingway on the verge of serious decline: the booze taking its toll, the writing stalled, the paranoia that would eventually lead to his suicide beginning to assert itself. All that gives the tale a nice psychodramatic edge as Hemingway jumps from Key West to Havana, dodging CIA stooges and assorted gangsters, and even spending a drunken evening chugging rum with a couple of revolutionaries named Fidel and Che."

Deadly Pleasures

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781410421166
  • Publisher: Gale Group
  • Publication date: 12/2/2009
  • Series: An Ernest Hemingway Mystery
  • Edition description: Large Print
  • Pages: 412
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.60 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

MICHAEL ATKINSON is a former film critic for The Village Voice. He has written for The Believer, Spin, Details, and many others, and has been included in Best American Poetry and Best American Movie Writing. He lives in Centerport, New York.

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Read an Excerpt


Hemingway woke up on the floor of his bedroom, facedown, the bedsheets wrapped in a knot around his left ankle, which had a fat, heavy, slightly damp plaster cast on it, toe to knee. What the, Hemingway’s face said, in a fisted scrunch. His eyes were, in Robert Capa’s mother’s phrase, pissholes in the snow. His cheeks, he could feel them hot with a few newly booze-ruptured capillaries. He became dimly aware that the inaccessible bottom of his foot itched. Outside, breakfast-time Key West fanned itself with coconutty tropical breezes like the queen of Sheba on a chaise lounge.

Early May, 1956. What had happened: Hemingway had been hunting geckos in his courtyard the previous afternoon, and hunting them meant rampaging around the gardens like a 230-pound kindergartner pretending to manhunt Iroquois with a pop-gun. An entire day’s worth of tequila battering his liver, and a 1924 Winchester elephant-stopper in his sweaty hands. His favorite gun, if he had to pick a favorite. The house cats, only two of which had six toes on two feet each, helped, crawling low and melodramatically through the shrubbery and jungle grass, targeting a hapless lizard on the tile walk or high on a palm tree clearly enough so Hemingway would come to see it, too, and then open fire. Each shot from this gun shook the top of each tree even if Hemingway had not in fact shot that particular tree. As it was, one palm took a solid hit and promptly died. Hemingway would have to hire a local gardener and his crew of illegal Nicaraguans a week or so later to remove it completely, before it could topple and perhaps take the house’s second-floor veranda with it.

The tile walk could be replaced, and so could the cats. The servants stayed in the cellar.

After more than a red-faced hour of this, Hemingway had, he thought, obliterated every gecko in the vicinity. But then, following a cat’s sudden, twitchy head turn, he saw one of the sticky-fingered crawlers high on a gutter. As the two of them watched, the lizard scampered up and onto the roof.

Hemingway ran full bore into the house and up the stairs. The cat followed, and ran underfoot on the second staircase. The feet came down on cat, let up, a split second, and then balance was lost. The man collided and grappled with the mahogany banister, kicking two of the balusters into splinters. Curses, some spittle, and then onward, to the third-floor study, past his old writing podium, and to the gable window overlooking a thin stretch of roof. Hemingway heaved his girth up onto the windowsill, atop a carved chest he had bought in Nairobi between safaris and in which, he remembered now for merely a second and then forgot all over again, he’d left love letters received from a Loyalist secretary twenty years earlier, what was her name, Camilla, when he was in Spain and just as Pauline was busy spending all of that money on the notorious saltwater swimming pool he was looking down into right now, kneeling and then standing on the steep, terra-cotta-shingled roof.

The pool was empty, Hemingway ruefully noted. If only it hadn’t been. But good thing it was. A dive from where he stood was too tempting, and would’ve snapped his neck like an ice-cream stick.

The gecko was nowhere to be seen. The cat did not come out onto the roof.

Hemingway harumphed, stamping down with the butt of his rifle. Which broke two terra-cotta tiles, which cascaded down, over the edge and then, after a few pregnant seconds, shattered on the patio with the thick, startling concussion of first-rate skeets.

The cracked tiles around the first two began to shed heavy clay shards, raining down two and a half stories, and when Hemingway attempted to step backward, toward the window, every old shingle under his feet cracked, folded, came loose, and gave way. He landed flatly on his rump, which loosened virtually every tile on the roof, and a monsoon of deadly clay shrapnel poured down to earth. Hemingway instantly began sliding downward, and the rounded clay tiles he grabbed came off in his hand. He thought about the empty swimming pool again, too bad, and also how even if he managed to survive the fall, three floors onto baked tile and concrete, the storm of terra-cotta debris trailing behind him—featuring fractured chunks weighing up to two solid pounds—would surely finish him off.

He looked up. It was a sterling, pitch-perfect Key West day. I wonder who’s fishing for what out there, he thought.

He had to let go of his gun, which was soon airborne. As he closed in on the roof’s edge, his legs made a decision, a decision his back and his head were certainly not in complete agreement with, to leap up and off at the last possible second toward the head of a young palm. Just a foot shorter than the roof edge, the tree stood almost fifteen feet from the house, but its fronds hung closer, like a dozing girl’s hair. Hemingway’s legs figured that if he was to land atop the tree, he could thereafter shimmy down its trunk and be saved. If he came anywhere near it, perhaps he could grab a frond and break his fall, at least to some degree. How the wrought-iron patio furniture beneath the tree would figure into the calculus of either scenario was not something Hemingway’s legs had apparently considered. In the two and a half seconds it took for the whole ordeal to transpire, not every contingency could be properly weighed.

Hemingway leapt. Too far, as it happens—like a flying squirrel, the man’s khaki-dressed, potbellied frame soared narrowly over the top of the tree, immediately beyond which lay a rock garden, rose bushes and more cement. So Hemingway grabbed one of the palm’s long fronds as he nearly passed over it, and held on tight, swinging him back to the tree as if he’d grabbed onto a passing streetcar.

The first casualty were the phone lines, which passed near the tree and which Hemingway missed on his maiden voyage off the roof but in which he successfully entangled his legs upon whipping back. Desperately, he gripped the top of the palm, but the fronds couldn’t support his weight, and so they snapped off. Hemingway proceeded to grip the tree itself, with both arms and phone-line-entwined legs. He started to slip downward, fast. The phone lines snapped off, the gun hit the pavement. The great man soon met the ground, hugging the tree with his eyes closed. His left ankle snapped on impact. He was largely unaware of this, soused as he was, and so he hobbled over to the wrought-iron patio furniture, sat down and yelled for Marisol, his favorite of the current kitchen help, who couldn’t hear him until he was bellowing at the top of his lungs because she was in the cellar with the rest of the staff playing cards. Finally, she brought him a bottle, a glass, a lime and some cold crabmeat, but when she saw his ankle, which was already the size and hue of a ruby red grapefruit, she called the doctor. By the time the doctor arrived, Hemingway was asleep.

This was how Hemingway woke up the next morning with a cast on his foot he had no foreknowledge of, and how, when Peter Cuthbert called that evening with the dreadful sound of blood in his voice, no phone in Hemingway’s house rang because the line was down. Nobody, therefore, even knew that Cuthbert had called except Cuthbert, and by midnight he was dead.

Excerpted from Hemingway Deadlights by Michael Atkinson.

Copyright 2009 by Michael Atkinson.

Published in August 2009 by Minotaur Books.

All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 6, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    The key to this delightful historical amateur sleuth is how Michael Atkinson captures the essence of Hemingway

    In 1956 in Key West, fisherman Peter Cuthbert is killed by a harpoon. The police are indifferent to the death, but Peter's friend Ernest Hemingway is not. Although he admits to himself his drinking buzz may have given him the courage at almost sixty and feeling like his writing career is over while hiding from much of the world, Hemingway decides to investigate as writer's block should not prove an impediment to the Nobel Prize winner. Of course, he knows his broken leg with its gorilla cast will hinder his probe though alcohol should alleviate that handicap if he can avoid rooftop foot first dives.

    His inquiry leads the amateur sleuth to Cuba, where Batista welcomes the Noble Prize winning author who then interviews mobster Meyer Lansky in Havana, and revolutionary Fidel Castro and ultimately Che Guevara in the foothills. The first two offer nothing of significance to the investigation, but Che insists Cuthbert was not just a fisherman. Stunned by the revolutionary revelation, Hemingway goes back to Key West to hide away only the feuding FBI and the CIA interrogate him as if they would like to answer FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS as him.

    The key to this delightful historical amateur sleuth is how Michael Atkinson captures the essence of Hemingway who as an almost sexagenarian needs to recapture his macho youth but recognizes that he can only do so with drink to strengthen his fortitude. His wife is incredibly drawn while the key people he interrogates in Cuba also seem genuine; their discussions highlight this super though implausible sleuthing saga of

    Harriet Klausner

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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