Review by Patty Crane
Edna Buchanan’s novel A Dark and Lonely Place is based on the real life characters John Ashley and Laura Upthegrove. John and Laura were the Florida version of Bonnie and Clyde. Buchanan, then a reporter for the Miami Herald, was fascinated by the stories she heard of John’s and Laura’s escapades.
One night in the newspaper morgue she stumbled onto John’s picture and her fascination suddenly had a face. How had this handsome young man with an infectious grin become such a notorious criminal that the Florida governor called him more dangerous than the Seminole Wars?
A century later Buchanan creates for us his life as it played out in Florida in the early 20th century. She also tells how it might play out in Florida now. A Dark and Lonely Place is historical fiction and a modern crime novel woven together. For the modern John Ashley’s trials and troubles closely follow the tale of his historical counterpart.
The real John Ashley grew up with Laura Upthegrove in West Florida along the Caloosahatchee River. They met in school when he was 7 and she was 5. They became each other’s best friend and as they grew older, fell in love.
When his family abruptly moved to south Florida when John was 16, he vowed to come back for Laura. However years pass and when he finally returns it is to mourn Laura’s death as he believes she died of yellow fever.
By chance John finds Laura very much alive and even though Laura is now married and the mother of two children they are reunited. They make a good life for themselves until a fateful day in 1911 when John shoots a man in self-defense. He is accused of murder, goes on the run, and the downward spiral begins.
The modern John Ashley is much like his historical counterpart, handsome, charming and the best shot around. He is a decorated homicide detective and while sunbathing on the beach with his fiancée a murder case lands in his lap.
It would have literally been in his lap if he hadn’t noticed a speed boat racing toward the shore and managed to evacuate the area before it ran ashore. At the helm of the boat is a very dead Ron Jon Eagle, a Miami defense lawyer known for his lifestyle and win at all cost tactics. Eagle’s cause of death was not the accident but gunshot wounds to the back of head.
John and his partner scramble to get as much information as possible before the identity of the murder victim is published. Eagle has three houseguests, models in town for a photo shoot. By the time John’s partner finds them one is dead, the second is on a plane bound for home, and the third is picked up on the way to the airport.
When John finally finds time to question model number three he meets his Laura. The connection between the two is instantaneous, as if they’ve met before. A murder attempt is made on Laura while she is still at the police station and John takes her into protective custody. A second attempt results in the death of the shooter, John’s own police captain. After assuring Laura’s safety and documenting the scene, John calls in the shooting.
What happens next seems inevitable. Instead of a full-blown investigation the department starts covering up and John finds himself framed for murder. When he realizes what is happening, he and Laura, with the help of his family, go on the run.
In the prologue the author wonders if, as history repeats it’s self, it is possible to change your destiny. Her answer is in the conclusion of the modern John and Laura’s story.
I enjoyed this fictionalized account of the historical John and Laura. That story could stand alone and be a very good novel. As for their modern day counterparts; even though I found some of the attempts to parallel the lives of the two couples over the top it was still entertaining.
The library has this title in both regular and large print.