Friday, November 24, 2006

Deadly Pleasures; John D. MacDonald

I've spent the last few nights reading through four recent issues of Deadly Pleasures Mystery Magazine. Editor and publisher George Easter has managed to find writers who know how to review books and magazines in crisp and professional fashion. And given the range of material covered, I'd have to say that Deadly Pleasures offers a more comprehensive look at current mystery novels and collections than just about any other publication I've seen. George himself writes many of the reviews and fine mini-overviews. He's joined by such familiar familiar names as Marvin Lachman, Ted Hertl, Jr. and Bev DeWeese. If you have an interest in the mystery field, this is a must-have publication.


A few months ago a number of bloggers decided to make clear their thoughts about the work of John D. MacDonald. They didn't like much of what he'd written. As somebody who'd been reading him for fifty-plus years I tried not to be influenced by all the knocks but I did find myself passing up my monthly JDM re-read. Well, today, I took Soft Touch down from the shelf and read half of it in a single sitting. I loved it. JDM's best work was the logical extension of the stories you found in Black Mask. Except, for the most part, they were better written and much more realistic. What JDM did was take crime out of both the drawing room (which Hammett did) and the alley (where it's claimed Hammett and Chandler put it) and plopped it right down in the middle-class of middle-America. I think this is why people who prefer hardboiled fail to see the darkness in virtually all his work. Crime is going on for sure but it takes place amid discussions of mortgages, promotions, budgets and the kind of middle-class guilt you don't find in most noir fiction. Forgive me father for I have sinned. He once talked about the influence of John O'Hara's Appointment in Summara on his work. I see that four or five times a page in most of his novels. And since Appointment is one of my ten all-time favorite American novels, I'm happy JDM was bedazzled by that particular novel and author.

1 comment:

Richard S. Wheeler said...

As it happened, I was reading a JDM novel when this posting appeared. It was The Dreadful Lemon Sky. The post made me consider why I've liked JDM so much, and for so long.

One reason is that his books are ongoing dialogs about human nature. I constantly marvel at how much JDM knows about what motivates us, how belief affects us, how various people behave. JDM is, in his own way, a brilliant clinical psychologist. That is one reason his characters are so vivid and memorable.