The book cover of the Key West WPA guide. Image reads "Key West" and art is deco style

The book about Tom Corcoran, Hunter S. Thompson and Thomas McGuane I waited too long to read.

Mile Marker Zero is an overlooked treasure.

William McKeen's 'Mile Marker Zero'
William McKeen’s 2016 book about the literary giants in Key West in the 1970s and 1980s is an undiscovered treasure. Image courtesy of the University Press of Florida.

Overlooked too long on my bookshelf, Mile Marker Zero (2016, University Press of Florida) is a book that at once has the perfect headline and the worst headline. Perfect because it’s perhaps the most accurate headline for what you’re about to read when you open it, and the worst because it barely hints at the treasures that lie within.

The cover simply promises “The moveable feast of Key West” and while I’ll read anything about Florida — truly, anything — this tagline elicited images of Ernest Hemingway, whereas I’m much happier reading Tom Corcoran.

Funny how that worked out, because Corcoran not only figures prominently in this book, this book wouldn’t have happened without him. Reading the book, in fact, evoked images of the Key West Corcoran creates in his Alex Rutledge series (and, also in his newer Bumsnoops books, of which I’ve read one and hungrily await a second).

Mile Marker Zero traces the modern cultural history of Key West through some of its most notable writers — Ernest Hemingway, of course, kicks it off, but from there it’s a literary connect-the-dots through time and space that. In the end, William McKeen ties Jimmy Buffett, Tom McGuane, Hunter S. Thompson and… well, let’s just leave it at this: McKeen packs a lot in between stories of wife-swapping, cocaine and home-built masturbatory aids the size of a Maytag. As you go, he paints each of anecdote in detail, but, when you finish studying the minutiae of each one, you step back to realize he’s painted this turquoise-and-coral soaked canvas of Key West.

It’s a magnificent discovery.

And with that, I’ll leave you, except to say this again: This book is a treasure, whether you love books or Key West. If you love both, it’s doubly so.