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Discover Laurence Shames, the mystery writer with the smiling simile

Updated on October 21, 2006

Bert the Shirt and Don Giovani

Will the real Laurence Shames please stand up

You take a New Jersey crime writer. You move him to Key West. Add too much time, too much sun and you might get a Laurence Shames. There are actually several Laurence Shames. There is the ghostwriter. There is the columnist and essayist. There is the mystery writer.

In his Key West series, Shames typically takes a person displaced from "up North", usually Jersey or New York, has him drift into Key West to find a new life. That new life often involves a dead body or two, some really unusual characters and results in a lot of reader smiling and laughing. There are lots of mobsters in Shames books, which speak to his roots as a crime writer. These hoods seem to come from the Dortmunder school of criminal ineptitude. I've seen some book jacket blurbs that liken Shames to Elmore Leonard. Elmore Leonard writes terrific bad guys, with humor, but writes with a harder edge. No, I'd liken Shames to Donald Westlake; author of the Dortmunder series, and many other great mysteries, but I digress.

Shames uses the simile liberally and artfully to bring Key West and his characters to the reader. His words carom through the paragraphs like clever balls in a pinball machine; scoring jackpots of vivid description and bonus smiles of recognition. In ‘Sunburn', an aging Godfather reflects on the differences between two sons: "A father doesn't really teach his sons. His life threw lessons in the air like scraps to gulls and different mouths latched onto different morsels." Very Florida, and very true.

This Shames series is really a bunch of books with overlapping characters and setting, and not a lot of important continuity. Read them in any order. My favorite character is Bert the Shirt, a retired New York mobster, who is known for his stylish shirts. Bert is a source of wisdom for the protagonist, and humor for the reader. Bert is never seen without his dead wife's Chihuahua, Don Giovanni. OK, if you want this to make sense, you've just got to read the book!

Shames is currently best known as the pseudonymous author of "Bad Twin". "Bad Twin" is a novel based on the TV series "Lost". Written as a tie-in the book has gained it's own independent popularity. Apparently the tie in book and the TV series drifted in different directions. Check out the Amazon author credits for the book - "About the Author - Bad Twin is the highly-anticipated new novel by acclaimed mystery writer Gary Troup. Bad Twin was delivered to Hyperion just days before Troup boarded Oceanic Flight 815, which was lost in flight from Sydney, Australia to Los Angeles in September 2004. He remains missing and is presumed dead."

Shames was the unaccredited ghost author of "Boss of Bosses", a NY Times bestseller and a TV show. This is a theme he borrows and uses well for his "Sunburn"' book about an aging Don who looks for a way to explain his life to his very different sons.


You know you want to try one or two, but where do you start ... Look up, look down, they're all around ...

The Naked Detective

Laurence Shames Bibliography

Mystery Fiction, set in Key West Florida

  1. Florida Straits, 1992

  2. Scavenger Reef, 1995

  3. Sunburn, 1995

  4. Tropical Depression, 1996-

  5. Virgin Heat, 1997-

  6. Mangrove Squeeze, 1998

  7. Welcome to Paradise, 1999-

  8. The Naked Detective, 2000

Novel based on the TV series "Lost"

  • Bad Twin, 2006 (ghostwritten under the name Gary Troup

Non Fiction

  • Boss of Bosses (ghostwriter)

  • Not Fade Away, 2002, with Peter Barton

Discovering Mystery Writers

There are many more terrific mystery writers whose names may not be on the NY Time's list, but deserve to be on a mystery reader's list. Discover Mystery Authors is a HubPage with a sneak peek at many more author's that you should check out!

Laurence Shames at a booksigning

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    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I'm major hooked, and need his to write more Key West series. Love Bert!!!

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      he is not really a similar writer but there is no doubt shames is influenced by john d macdonald you have to read his travis mcgee series to put these florida series novels into context

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Now that I know who really wrote Boss of Bosses I'm going to read a lot more of his work. Like a lot of people, I was fooled. Thanks for revealing the truth and for this interesting site.

      I'm out to buy another of Laurence's books first thing tomorrow morning.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      It's a shame that the true author of Boss of Bosses was not given credit for it. The FBI agents and so-called authors of the book took a lot of credit for work they didn't do all the way around. How sad - I hope he got paid good bucks for it!

    • jstankevicz profile imageAUTHOR


      12 years ago from Cave Creek

      Diana, on author's with similar style, I can recommend Lawrence Block and Donald Westlake. Block has several great series, but his Bernie Rhodenbarr series about a sometimes bookstore owner and sometimes burglar are fun. Block is also a great short story teller, and many have a comedic edge. Westlake is a prolific author and his Dortmunder series is fun. Dortmunder and his gang are up to no good, and that's the way his capers usually turn out! Janet Evonovich captures a slice of New Jersey that resonates in her Stephanie Plum bounty hunter series.

    • jstankevicz profile imageAUTHOR


      12 years ago from Cave Creek

      Thank you prasadjain. Mark, Jennifer and Diana. Appreciate the encouragment. I've enjoyed writing about writing, and hope it is readable. Only silence from Laurence Shames, so I'm not expecting more in the Key West series - sadly.

    • prasadjain profile image


      12 years ago from Tumkur

      Nice.It gives a good introduction to aversatile author.

    • profile image

      Jennifer Finney 

      12 years ago

      Does anyone know if Laurence Shames is going to write any more Key West books? My whole family loves them and we have been anxiously awaiting a new novel. My favorite character is Bert the shirt and Don Giovanni.

    • Mark Sconce profile image

      Mark Sconce 

      12 years ago from Mesa

      A fine little essay that deserves three fingers of Laphroaig and a bag of Bihar cashews.

    • profile image

      Diana Stephenson 

      12 years ago

      Hi Jack, great page! Do you have any idea why Laurence Shames isn't writing? Can you recommend any other author with a similar style? Thanks! Diana

    • jstankevicz profile imageAUTHOR


      12 years ago from Cave Creek

      Hi britishbird. Thanks for the nice note. Chandler wrote hard-boiled with a cynical slant. Shames writes with tongue firmly in cheek. Regards, Jack.

    • jstankevicz profile imageAUTHOR


      12 years ago from Cave Creek

      Hi Diana, you question slipped by me. I'm not aware of any new Key West books. Regards, Jack

    • britishbird profile image


      12 years ago

      He obviously has his roots in Chandler, whose characterization and sense of place turned his mystery novels to literature.

      Thanks for posting this, I really enjoyed it - yet another writer to try, great.

    • profile image

      Diana Stephenson 

      12 years ago

      I'm sad Laurence Shames is not writing any more of his Key West books. Any idea if more may be on the horizon?


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