Standiford made his reputation as the unofficial godfather of the South Florida crime thriller by way of an intrepid building contractor named John Deal. Deal is a world-weary average-guy protagonist with a knack for getting in and out of bad situations. While the credit for this popular character (appearing in six novels) goes to Standiford's tightly woven, literate prose, the success of the series itself rests at least in part on the setting -- ever-mysterious and unlikely South Florida. But Standiford's yen to pitch the Everyman against the nearly insurmountable forces of this absurd place was turned around on itself when he attempted an ambitious nonfiction book, published last year, about an ambitious man who proved even less tractable than the strange land he conquered. The man: railroad baron Henry Flagler. The book: Last Train to Paradise: Henry Flagler and the Spectacular Rise and Fall of the Railroad that Crossed an Ocean, in which Flagler extended his railway from the mainland south of Miami to Key West, more than 150 miles away, thereby turning mosquito-infested islands into margarita-sodden tourist traps begging for the next hurricane to wipe their stain from Florida Bay. Standiford pays the bills as an English professor and director of the creative writing program at Florida International University.