An ancillary benefit from doing book signings is the opportunity to meet the most interesting people. I’ve been signing my novel Murder in Palm Beach: The Homicide That Never Died on weekends at the artisanal market in Manalapan. It’s a small, upscale community near the ocean, just south of South Palm Beach. The market is in Plaza del Mar, across from Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa (formerly Ritz Carlton).
Last Saturday and Sunday (July 8-9), I became engrossed in conversations with two separate parties about horrendous crimes in which their lives had become embroiled. A criminal defense attorney from Pompano Beach had defended a black man whom the lawyer and his wife, a real estate agent, knew before the man went off the deep end into a killing spree. This man was, they said, the nicest person you would ever want to meet – until he became smitten by a woman who demanded that he provide her with life’s luxuries. He committed a number of burglaries to come up with the money needed to satisfy her whims. In the process, he killed three people. While serving a prison term, another inmate murdered him.
The couple visited him in prison, and he sent them letters. He cried in despair, and was at a loss to explain what had happened to him – how he’d fallen prey to a romantic infatuation that turned him from a kind, gentle person into a killer.
Then there was the man whose mother, who died two years ago at age 96, became the target of Mississippi racism during the Civil Rights era in which activists Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner and James Chaney were murdered. Law enforcement accused a black woman of intimidating a police officer in the midst of a manhunt for her husband’s cousin, who was accused of beating up the city marshal. When she was sent to prison, the man’s mother helped her in a series of cat-and-mouse games that ended in a Mississippi Supreme Court decision releasing the woman from
prison. But, out of fear of retaliation, the white woman never spoke about the event until she turned 90, her son said. A 2014 book titled Justice for Ella, by Pam Johnson, brings the episode to light while portraying the Southern milieu of the time.
Everyone’s life is a story, and narration of the story in my book elicits a lot of them, most of which I enjoy hearing. Politics comes up when I point out that an important person is implicated in my novel. A frequent, wry response: “Donald Trump.” No, I say, then hint at an equivalent level. “That low?” an elderly man retorted.
The market is running through the summer, even while construction of a Publix supermarket is under way in the west end of the plaza. Visitors – most of them heading to breakfast or lunch at John G’s restaurant – browse among the vendors of hand-made jewelry, colorful female fashions, fancy straw hats, hand-woven baskets, scented soaps, sometimes raw honey and tantalizing teas, and other specialty items. It’s held Saturdays and Sundays, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., at the corner of Ocean Avenue and A1A.