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June 25, 2023

Guest Commentary: ‘Get Strange’ Turns the Tropics into a Mystery Setting

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The Naples Daily News did a feature on books from local authors that should be on everyone’s Christmas list. This portion was about my Strange Files series.

By Harriet Howard Heithaus


Alex Strange generally is nobody’s darling among his fictional milieu. He has the wit of a paint thinner martini and the curiosity of a cat missing part of its tail from the last investigation it undertook: He doesn’t really want to do this again, but he can’t help himself.

Worst of all, Alex is the Jim Cantore of the crime world: When he shows up, disaster is imminent.

Yet Naples author J.C. Bruce loves him. That may be because the droll danger magnet is his creation. And for Bruce, when his hero is around, good things happen, such as winning the 2022 Royal Palm Literary Awards from the Florida Writers Association. His “Get Strange” is the fourth in a series of five books of The Strange Files series, all starring his favorite character.

Bruce also may love the tropics-trotting Alex Strange because he has taken on a life of his own.

“I’m a big fan of the Lee Child (“Killing Floor,” “Gone Tomorrow”) theory of how to write a mystery. Let your characters tell the story,” he said.

“And that happens. I never know what they’re going to do next. It’s more fun writing them as opposed to reading them.”

One thing his characters often do is spend their leisure moments on the waterfront of Goodland, where Alex’s home, the Miss Demeanor, is permanently docked.

“Get Strange” is liberally salted with local landmarks, offering any gift recipient who gets this book an incentive to explore the nether reaches of Collier County.

Bruce is a former editor for the Naples Daily News, and his newspaper career has likely been a good incubator for the acid-toned repartee between law enforcement and Alex, a columnist for the spunky little Tropic Press.

Alex’s penchant for bizarre mysteries could have been absorbed by his author while working at the Dayton, Ohio, Daily News, where an employee killed his wife and cemented her body into a column in the building. Employees worked around the victim, unaware of her presence until detectives sleuthed it out.

Bruce intersperses an occasional column from Alex with chapters of his book, head-shaker tales of Florida, which may or may not be true. But those of us who live here are inclined to think: Sure, that could happen.

Those have doubtlessly strengthened reader affection for Alex Strange and his mute housemates: Fred, a bequeathed mop of a dog; Mona, department store mannequin in pirate garb and a life-size cutout of Mr. Spock, the Vulcan from “Star Trek.” It’s kept Bruce busy, but also kept a few new lead characters in his head from making an appearance.

“I don’t want to say I get deluged, but I get a lot of feedback saying, ‘When’s the next book coming out? I want to read more about Alex,'” he said.

“So every time I sit down and think about writing something different, it’s like ‘Wait a minute. I’ve got an audience here who wants the next Alexander Strange book.’ I’m going to have to make some time for the other ideas,” he conceded.

In the meantime, yes, another story for The Strange Files is in the works.

“Get Strange” (358 pages; Tropic Press LLC, 2021) and “Mr. Manners” (384 pages; Tropic Press LLC; 2021) are available online at their author’s website, jcbruce.com. Those who sign up for his newsletter before Black Friday will receive an email message offering them a free e-edition of “Mr. Manners.”

About Post Author

J.C. Bruce

J.C. Bruce is a journalist and author of The Strange Files series of mysterious novels.
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