Authors: John D. MacDonald
Praise for John D. MacDonald
“My favorite novelist of all time.”
“For my money, John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee is one of the great characters in contemporary American fiction—not crime fiction; fiction,
—and millions of readers surely agree.”
The Washington Post
“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
“Travis McGee is one of the most enduring and unusual heroes in detective fiction.”
The Baltimore Sun
“[John D. MacDonald] remains one of my idols.”
“A dominant influence on writers crafting the continuing series character.”
“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.”
BY JOHN D. MACDONALD
The Brass Cupcake
Murder for the Bride
Judge Me Not
Wine for the Dreamers
Ballroom of the Skies
Dead Low Tide
The Neon Jungle
Cancel All Our Vows
All These Condemned
Area of Suspicion
A Bullet for Cinderella
Cry Hard, Cry Fast
You Live Once
Border Town Girl
Murder in the Wind
The Price of Murder
The Empty Trap
A Man of Affairs
Cape Fear (The Executioners)
Please Write for Details
The Beach Girls
Slam the Big Door
The End of the Night
The Only Girl in the Game
Where Is Janice Gantry?
One Monday We Killed Them All
A Key to the Suite
A Flash of Green
The Girl, the Gold Watch & Everything
On the Run
The House Guest
End of the Tiger and Other Stories
The Last One Left
Other Times, Other Worlds
Nothing Can Go Wrong
The Good Old Stuff
One More Sunday
More Good Old Stuff
A Friendship: The Letters of Dan Rowan and John D. MacDonald, 1967–1974
The Travis McGee Series
The Deep Blue Good-by
Nightmare in Pink
A Purple Place for Dying
The Quick Red Fox
A Deadly Shade of Gold
Bright Orange for the Shroud
Darker than Amber
One Fearful Yellow Eye
Pale Gray for Guilt
The Girl in the Plain Brown Wrapper
Dress Her in Indigo
The Long Lavender Look
A Tan and Sandy Silence
The Scarlet Ruse
The Turquoise Lament
The Dreadful Lemon Sky
The Empty Copper Sea
The Green Ripper
Free Fall in Crimson
The Lonely Silver Rain
The Official Travis McGee Quizbook
The Only Girl in the Game
is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
2013 Random House Trade Paperback eBook Edition
Copyright © 1960 by John D. MacDonald
Introduction 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, Inc., New York.
Random House Trade Paperbacks and colophon are trademarks of Random House, Inc.
Cover design: Joe Montgomery
The Singular John D. MacDonald
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.
• • • one
It was the middle of April, and the morning sun laid its white weight across all the architectural confections along the Las Vegas Strip, and shone with bright impartiality upon the grubbiness of the town itself, upon the twenty-four-hour-a-day marriage chapels, the sour little rooming houses and anonymous motels.
In the big hotels … Sahara, Desert Inn, Tropicana, Riviera, New Frontier, Sands … the guests slept in too darkened rooms, in the chilly whisper of air conditioning.
At the Cameroon, the front desk phoned at the customary nine o’clock, bringing Hugh Darren, the assistant manager, up out of a submarine nightmare where he had been fleeing through endless coral caverns from a Thing which wore the red compulsive face of Jerry Buckler.
He put the phone back on the cradle and swung long legs out of his bachelor bed and sat there for a time, making the transition from the fading terror of the dream to a bright Wednesday, to the shifting intricacies, the partial projects of this day. He was nearing the end of his twenty-ninth year, and he sensed that thirty was a label of a significance he could not yet comprehend. He was a big lean limber man who gave the impression of leisure and indolence and low-pressure amiability. He moved with that elusive look of style and special favor that some athletes achieve. His hair was a crisp short brown, with ginger highlights; and his eyebrows were a lighter shade, unusually bristling and heavy over gray-blue eyes set aslant in the bony, slightly freckled, asymmetric face. It was an ugly-attractive face which had adjusted itself to a habitual expression of mild irony. He could not have imagined for himself any kind of life work which would not have required a constant involvement with people. He had the detectable composure of a man who knows he is very, very good at his work, and the humility to appreciate the luck that led him into it.