Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Forgotten Books: A Purple Place For Dying by John D. MacDonald; Charles Runyon
Forgotten Books: A Purple Place For Dying
Of all the Travis McGee novels, this strikes me as the one that would have been right at home in Black Mask magazine in its prime. This is McGee just before he goes all Iconic Hero on us. Here he's a little grittier, a little humbler and a lot angrier for a good sound reason--the buxom blonde rich woman who hires him to get some dirt on her husband (she suspects he's embezzling her money) is blown away before his eyes in a grim stretch of Southwestern desert.
I mention Black Mask because as all of those boys (and those few girls) knew you had to keep twisting and turning your tales to keep audiences interested. And this book has enough surprises, blind alleys and shocks to rival the most calculated beach book. Plus it's interesting to watch how McGee has to outwit not only the mysterious people who killed the woman but also the law. You have to go all the way back to Erle Stanley Gardner's fine Whispering Sands series to find a novel where the desert is as much a a character as most of the people in the book.
JDM also shows us a slice of desert life, how so many aspects of daily life are calibrated to compensate for the troubles and dangers of living here. As always his portraits of people are spot on. He was one of the first crime writers I read who was able to create characters who were a mixture of bad and good. And here we meet people we shouldn't like much but are forced to because of circumstances.
I've never been sure why A Purple Place For Dying is rarely mentioned in the McGee honor role. To me it's a fine, grim take on the classic desert story as seen through the eyes of a weary, nearly broke, often perplexed McGee.
GREAT NEWS ABOUT CHARLES RUNYON
I mentioned the other night that I (and others) assumed the fine writer Charles Runyon was dead. Well Steve Lewis sent me a phone number to try and I ended up talking to Charles for fifteen minutes. He's teaching writing at a college in Texas and has finished two novels that he's sending me to read. He's one of the good ones, man and writer alike. I'm happy to report that I was wrong.