Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Bright Lights, Big City: John D. MacDonald’s Las Vegas JARED SHURIN

The Only Girl in the Game by John D. MacDonald

Bright Lights, Big City: John D. MacDonald’s Las Vegas

Ed here:I've always liked this review by Jared Shurin on

Although author of over one hundred books, it was rare for John D. MacDonald to leave the fertile stomping ground of his native Florida. Like his characters, he clearly felt uncomfortable in the big Northeastern cities or windswept Texan plains. However, in his novels set in Las Vegas, MacDonald harnesses that discomfort to write two works of almost perfect noir. 

The Empty Trap (1957) and The Only Girl in the Game (1960) are both better remembered for their lusty Robert McGinnis cover art than their content. The similarities don’t stop there. In both books, the protagonists are young hotel managers, working in Las Vegas and wrestling with the unpleasant awareness their hotels are owned by the mob.

TThe plots are similar as well. In each, the square-jawed, broad-shouldered, straight-laced hero falls for the wrong girl and tries to fight the mob. In The Empty Trap, this is Sylvia, the young wife of the hotel’s Syndicate owner. In The Only Girl in the Game, the femme is Vicky, a lounge singer and (cough) extra-hours employee of the casino. In both books, the forbidden love between the Square Jaw and the Reluctant Mob-Moll serves to pull the trigger on the action.
However, despite their identical trappings, the books explore the noir world in different ways. The Empty Trap is a simple revenge story. It begins with Lloyd Wescott, Square Jaw, plummeting off a cliff. He’s tried to get away from the mob with both cash and girl and, judging by his opening position (falling), the attempt failed.

Lloyd’s story reveals one of the rudimentary principles of the genre: he’s an imperfect protagonist in an imperfect world. Lloyd’s own recognition of this dark truth is the most compelling part of the book. He begins the book knowing “that he was one of the good guys. That made it simple, because then you always knew how it came out.... But something was wrong with this script [he wasn’t saved] in the nick of time. The nick of time went right on by while you screamed and screamed onto a bloody towel.” (33)

(sorry about lack of caps--couldn't figure out what was wrong)

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