The Sunshine Corpse: Max Murray and Florida

The Sunshine Corpse by Max Murray

published 1954



I very much enjoyed, and blogged on, a couple of other books by Max Murray: his series of crime stories all had ‘corpse’ in the title, had quite different settings, and as far as I  know there was no series detective or other connections.

This one is set in the US, and my notes say ‘Entertaining, set in Florida, collection of randoms. roadside stall, circus act, alligator swamp.’ Wouldn't you always want to read a book with those keynotes? It was highly enjoyable, largely because of his ability to create a whole world in a short stretch of highway.

‘There was a fruit stall by the road piled high with glowing Florida oranges. There were shelves of Indian River preserves. On the gravel in front of the stall there were pink flamingoes and carved coconuts; souvenirs of a visit to Florida.’

Round the back there are cabins to rent. Out in the woods there are shacks and pools and wildlife. On the lawn, trapeze apparatus has been set up, and a young couple are practising. Down the road there is an alligator farm. There is an aging preacher and his two nephews.

In the shop there is a corpse, and our protagonist, Arnold Emeny, a  marine biologist, stops to buy oranges and walks in on all this.  

Fortunately the dead man is no loss, but still the poor sheriff has to try to find a perpetrator: and as the victim is horrible, many people have a motive. The locals run rings round the sheriff.  The story winds on like the Florida highway: nicely constructed and highly visual and witty. I found it very easy to see all the scenes and places in the book. I really enjoyed it – it is not the best crime story ever written (and I’m not wholly convinced I understood everything about the plot) but he had me at the roadside stall: the book gripped me from there on.

I also knew that there is a tranche of photos called Florida Memory online, and that I would be able to find something suitable. A modest hope, massively over-fulfilled.

One of the pictures shows Lilly Pulitzer dresses – you can find out about them in this post: they were invented by a lady who had a roadside stall in Florida, just like Martha in the book. This group is very well-dressed, but otherwise might resemble the cast of characters here.

Young woman picking oranges.

Man and woman with basket.

Two men with alligator.

Roadside shop.

Young woman in a hat.

--All these pictures, apart from the Lily Pulitzers, are from Florida Memory. They have put around 5000 photos online (and generously allow the likes of me to use them under a Creative Commons licence), and I wanted to use, oh, approximately half of them. If you go and look at this resource, I confidently expect you will be thinking ‘why didn’t she use THIS one? And THIS one? And THIS one?’ If you use search terms such as ‘oranges’ or ‘alligator’ it just gets worse ie the photos get even better.

As a picture of US life in the 20th century, Florida Memory is quite wonderful. I have used many of the pictures before, which means that if you enter ‘Florida’ as a search term in the blog box, you get a remarkable collection of posts based everywhere in the world, but having had some feature which I could illustrate from this treasure trove.

Anyway, I enjoyed the book hugely, quite apart from the fun of looking for the photos. I understand that there may be some hope of Max Murray books being reprinted: I very much hope so. All those I have read were funny, short and entertaining to read, and in these days of rediscovering past authors I think he could have a huge success. 


  1. Florida settings have a lot to offer in terms of atmosphere, Moira; I'm glad you thought Murray got it right here. And I like the sound of the story; somehow a murder is easier if that's the word when the victim wasn't much beloved..

    1. I answered this, but my reply seems to have got lost!
      Yes, it may not be like real life, but there's a lot to be said for having a victim no-one cares about!
      And yes, I very much enjoyed the Florida setting. It's somewhere I've never visited in real life.

  2. Without looking at the pictures, I already have memories in my mind of all those Florida postcards my Grandma used to send me every winter in the 1950s, when she and Grandpa escaped the Toronto weather for 3 months among the oranges and alligators.

    1. I hope you will go and look at the collection, because you will definitely recognize the style!

  3. Your wish has been granted, Moira! I am part of the way through The King and the Corpse, set on the Riviera, and just reprinted by the splendid Galileo Publishers. Chrissie

    1. Oh good, I hope you enjoy it. The Voice of the Corpse is also very good.
      The King and the Corpse is very loosely based on some real events, and I actually knew someone who had been present at those events - will tell you more when I see you!

  4. How intriguing!


Post a Comment