Authors: John D. MacDonald
“MacDonald isn’t simply popular; he’s also good.”
“MacDonald’s books are narcotic and, once hooked, a reader can’t kick the habit until the supply runs out.”
Chicago Tribune Book World
“John D. MacDonald remains one of my idols.”
“The Dickens of mid-century America—popular, prolific and … conscience-ridden about his environment … a thoroughly American author.”
The Boston Globe
“It will be for his crisply written, smoothly plotted mysteries that MacDonald will be remembered.”
“MacDonald had the marvelous ability to create attention-getting characters who doubled as social critics. In MacDonald novels, it is the rule rather than the exception to find, in the midst of violence and mayhem, a sentence, a paragraph, or several pages of rumination on love, morality, religion, architecture, politics, business, the general state of the world or of Florida.”
is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
2014 Random House Trade Paperbacks Edition
Copyright © 1977 by John D. MacDonald
Copyright renewed 2005 by Maynard MacDonald
Foreword copyright © 2013 by Dean Koontz
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Random House Trade Paperbacks, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, New York.
colophon are registered trademarks of Random House LLC.
Originally published in hardcover in the United States by J. B. Lippincott & Co., Philadelphia, PA, in 1977.
eBook ISBN 978-0-307-82724-1
Cover design: Joe Montgomery
Cover photograph: Scott B Smith/Getty
This book is dedicated to these people who were part of the good years in Sarasota and were washed away:
Bill Adams • Walter and Margo Anderson • George and Nancy Albee • Chick Austin • Fran Barley • Bart Bartholomew • Les Baylis • Cosby Bernard • Glen Berry • Karl Bickel • Gertie Blassingame • Don Boomhower • Rosemary Bouden • Ross Boyer • Dave and Sally Boylston • Smyth Brohard • Mary Lawrence Brown • Charles Brundage • Vic Butterfield • Carl Carmer • Tom Chamales • John Z. Clarke • Gabe Cohn • Jack Coldwell • Roy Cook • Jon Corbino • Tom and Betty Crisp • Ben Currier • Pelham Curtis • Oscar Delano • Bill Dobson • A. B. Edwards • Lee Eggers • Janet Elvgren • Ray Englert • Roger Flory • Sandy French • David Gray • Martin Griffin • Miss Charlie Hagerman • Randy Hagerman • Phill Hall • Bebe Hamel • Pop Harbert • Jack Hasson • Alden Hatch • Larry Heller • Edward Burlingame Hill • T. Dana Hill • Al Hirshberg • Russ Hollander • Lew Hughes • Kent Innes • Iz Jenkins • Harold Johnstone • Mack Kantor • Carleton Kelsey • Warren Kemp • Nick Kenny • Jim Kicklighter • Verman Kimbrough • Bill Kip • Reggie Lacatta • Larry LaCava • Jack and Liz Lambie • Ed Langer • Hilton Leech • Larry Lehman • Ray Littrell • John Logan • Jean Ludwig • Jim McCague • Les McFarlane • Eddie Marable • Richard A. A. Martin • Walter Martin • Joe Marx • Murray Mathews • Nappy Matthews • Mike Matusak • Pat McClerkin • Crete McCourtney •Johns McCulley • Oliver McGowan • Kent McKinley • Bill Moise • Bert Montressor • Herman Myers • John Newell • Wally Norton • Bruff Olin • Gordon Palmer • Emmy Pete • Glenn Potter • Mel Potter • Harris Powers • Ted Pratt • Jay and Helen Protas • Ralph Putthoff • Frank Rampola • Loring Raoul • Felix Reisenberg • Jack Rhoades • Willy Robarts • Bill Rogers • Harry Saddler • Bill and Janet Scher • Dave Scobie • Taylor Scott • Ernie Sears • Squire Sessler • Alvord Sheen • Eddie Shields • Karl Shrode • Ned Skinner • Jean Spanos • Warren Spurge • Lois Steinmetz • Becky Sterling • George Storm • Elmer Sulzer • Hank Taylor • Lyle Thompson • Rosie Tombs • Maximilliano Truzzi • Bert Twitchell • Louise Utz • Bill and Laura Van Cleef • Ted Wacker • Paul Waner • David Ward • Bill Watkins • Joyce West • Dorsey Wittington • Fred Woltman • Ed Younker
“It’s a very dangerous thing to go so long between hurricanes. It just causes a larger number of incredulous people—nonbelievers.”
Dr. Robert H. Simpson, former director National Hurricane Center Miami, Florida
WHEN I WAS IN COLLEGE
, I had a friend, Harry Recard, who was smart, funny, and a demon card player. Harry was a successful history major, while I passed more time playing pinochle than I spent in class. For the three and a half years that I required to graduate, I heard Harry rave about this writer named John D. MacDonald, “John D” to his most ardent readers. Of the two of us, Harry was the better card player and just generally the cooler one. Consequently, I was protective of my position, as an English major, to be the better judge of literature, don’t you know. I remained reluctant to give John D a look.
Having read mostly science fiction, I found many of my professors’ assigned authors markedly less exciting than Robert Heinlein and Theodore Sturgeon, but I was determined to read the right thing. For every Flannery O’Connor whose work I could race through with delight, there were three like Virginia Woolf, who
made me want to throw their books off a high cliff and leap after them. Nevertheless, I continued to shun Harry’s beloved John D.
Five or six years after college, I was a full-time writer with numerous credits in science fiction, struggling to move into suspense and mainstream work. I was making progress but not fast enough to suit me. By now I knew that John D was widely admired, and I finally sat down with one of his books. In the next thirty days, I read thirty-four of them. The singular voice and style of the man overwhelmed me, and the next novel I wrote was such an embarrassingly slavish imitation of a MacDonald tale that I had to throw away the manuscript.
I apologized to Harry for doubting him. He was so pleased to hear me proclaiming the joys of John D that he only said “I told you so” on, oh, twenty or thirty occasions.
Over the years, I have read every novel by John D at least three times, some of them twice that often. His ability to evoke a time and place—mostly Florida but also the industrial Midwest, Las Vegas, and elsewhere—was wonderful, and he could get inside an occupation to give you the details and the feel of it like few other writers I’ve ever read. His pacing was superb, the flow of his prose irresistible, and his suspense watch-spring tight.
Of all his manifest strengths as a writer, however, I am most in awe of his ability to create characters who are as real as anyone I’ve met in life. John D sometimes paused in the headlong rush of his story to spin out pages of background on a character. At first when this happened, I grumbled about getting on with the story. But I soon discovered that he could make the character so fascinating that when the story began to race forward again, I wanted it to slow down so I could learn more about this person who so intrigued and/or delighted me. There have been many good suspense novelists in recent decades, but in my experience, none has produced
characters with as much humanity and truth as those in MacDonald’s work.
Like most who have found this author, I am an admirer of his Travis McGee series, which features a first-person narrator as good as any in the history of suspense fiction and better than most. But I love the standalone novels even more.
Cry Hard, Cry Fast. Where Is Janice Gantry? The Last One Left. A Key to the Suite. The Drowner. The Damned. A Bullet for Cinderella. The Only Girl in the Game. The Crossroads. All These Condemned
. Those are not my only favorites, just a few of them, and many deal with interesting businesses and occupations. Mr. MacDonald’s work gives the reader deep and abiding pleasure for many reasons, not the least of which is that it portrays the contemporary life of his day with as much grace and fidelity as any writer of the period, and thus it also provides compelling social history.
In 1985, when my publisher, Putnam, wanted to send advance proof copies of
to Mr. MacDonald among others, I literally grew shaky at the thought of him reading it. I suggested that they shouldn’t send it to him, that, as famous and prolific as he was, the proof would be an imposition on him; in truth, I feared that he would find the novel unsatisfying. Putnam sent it to him anyway, and he gave us an enthusiastic endorsement. In addition, he wrote to me separately, in an avuncular tone, kindly advising me how to avoid some of the pitfalls of the publishing business, and he wrote to my publisher asking her to please carefully consider the packaging of the book and not condemn it to the horror genre. She more or less condemned it to the genre anyway, but I took his advice to heart.
In my experience, John D. MacDonald, the man, was as kind and thoughtful as his fiction would lead you to believe that he must be. That a writer’s work accurately reflects his soul is a rarer
thing than you might imagine, but in his case, the reflection is clear and true. For that reason, it has been a special honor, in fact a grace, to be asked to write this introduction.
Reader, prepare to be enchanted by the books of John D. MacDonald. And Harry, I am not as much of an idiot as I was in years gone by—though I know you won’t let me get away with claiming not to be to any degree an idiot anymore.
HOWARD ELBRIGHT FINALLY FOUND
Julian Higbee, the condominium manager, lounging against a concrete column, staring toward the pool area where two young women were taking turns diving from the low board.
“Excuse me,” Elbright said. “The girl in the office thought you were maybe by the tennis courts. That’s where I looked first.”
Higbee, the manager, did not respond in any way. He just stood there beside Elbright, big brown arms folded, thick brown ankles crossed. He was a large and meaty fellow, and on all areas not covered by his pale blue sports shirt and his dark blue shorts, his sun-darkened hide was fuzzed with sun-bleached white hairs. On his solid jowls the hair was pale stubble. Though obviously too young a fellow for a hairpiece, his auburn hair was so carefully coifed to sweep across his forehead just above eyebrow level, it looked glossy and wiglike.