No Name Key by Jessica Argyle

A noir thriller, drawing upon a little known period of Florida and American history. Jessica Argyle opened the archival files of Islamorada to expose a treasure trove of artifacts exposing the seedier side of the construction of the Overseas Highway. Post the 1929 Great Depression, World War I veterans flocked to the Florida Keys to work on one of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal projects: the road that would become known as US 1- Ending and Beginning in Key West.

Seventy years after the American Civil War the Florida Keys retained their allure as a frontier  fishing outpost for the well-heeled upper crust who looked down on the men and women who became the coral backbone of this archipelago. And that is where Argyle’s story of living on and coming from the wrong side of the tracks, endurance, singular bravery, and love takes the reader. The story of the manchineel tree was so intriguing I kayaked across the Gulf of Mexico from Big Pine Key to No Name Key (which really exists) through the entanglements of the mangrove trees, representative of the entanglements and of the main characters. No spoiler alert but the manchineel is a main character.

Argyle weaves the history of America into the tapestry of the Keys. The richness of the story lies not only within the confrontations between the characters but also the naked reality of the harsh environment. Compressing the hard life women lead during the depression era, Argyle has developed a deeply complicated character in Elle, the protagonist. The descriptive pages are not for the faint of heart, but the thread of Elle’s self-realization is a heartfelt restorative.

The tale could be a standalone movie, but Argyle leaves us up in the air as to the future of the antiheroic Elle. Dangling participles, so to speak,  beg answers. This tale has easily flowed into the sequel—Sidetrack Key (no such place), and hopefully headed for the storyboards for a two-part mini-series. Kudos to Ms. Argyle for allowing the reader a nuanced insight into Florida Keys life during its days of infancy and infamy.

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