At 26, 'Envy the Night' author Michael Koryta is seasoned vet in mystery genre

Here in the Tampa Bay area, we can already boast about having big-gun mystery writers Michael Connelly and Dennis Lehane as neighbors.

Now we can add Michael Koryta to the list. The part-time St. Petersburg resident just won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for best mystery/thriller for his fourth novel, Envy the Night (St. Martin's Minotaur, $24.95).

"That was something," Koryta says of the award ceremony. He was in good company; other winners included Marilynne Robinson for Home and Barton Gellman for Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency.

Koryta has made a habit of winning awards. His first novel, Tonight I Said Goodbye, won the St. Martin's Press/Private Eye Writers of America contest for best first private eye novel — when Koryta was 20.

Now, at 26, he has published four novels, completed two more and is working on a seventh.

"I started writing as soon as I started reading," he says. He began working on the local newspaper, the Bloomington Herald Times, while he was in high school in Indiana.

After earning a degree in criminal justice from Indiana University, he became a private investigator — a line of work not all that common among crime writers.

"It absolutely gave me an advantage on the detail side of things" when in writing his books, he says. Are detective novels much like being a real detective? "Not the ones that are fun to read. When you're sitting in the car for 12 hours doing surveillance, trying to stay awake — that's not going to sustain fiction for very long."

Koryta's first three novels were about Cleveland private investigator Lincoln Perry, but Envy the Night is a standalone thriller about a U.S. marshal's suicide and his son's pursuit of vengeance and the truth. His next novel, another in the Perry series, will be published in August.

"I'm already ranging out" of the mystery genre, he says. "My next book is a supernatural story, which is something I never saw myself writing." He's working now on a novel set in Florida during the Depression.

Koryta was drawn to Florida first by Eckerd College's Writers in Paradise program, cofounded by novelist Lehane (The Given Day).

"The three classes I took with Dennis were the most important thing that happened to me as a writer," he says. This year, he taught classes in the program himself.

He also found romance with Christine Caya, the coordinator of Writers in Paradise. "So it was Writers in Paradise that brought me here and then kept me here, evidently."

Colette Bancroft can be reached at cbancroft@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8435.

At 26, 'Envy the Night' author Michael Koryta is seasoned vet in mystery genre 05/06/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 6, 2009 9:21pm]

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