Thursday, March 08, 2012

Forgotten Books: The Executioners by John DF. MacDonald

The Executioners

I usually read a John D. novel every month or so. There are eight or nine I never get tired of simply because they're so well done.

Last night I picked up The Executioners (Cape Fear) for bedtime reading and read to page 102 before turning out the light. Yes, a few of his flaws on are on display, especially cutesy-poo man-woman dialogue but mostly in first half of the first act. But except for that this is a virtually perfect suspense novel. MacDonald wisely hews to the Hitchcock rule--suspense comes from knowing that the bomb is under the chair. MacDonald plants the bomb in the first chapter and then slowly lets the wick burn lower and lower. Several lesser incidents anticipate the final explosion.

Cady isn't Robert Mitchum's Cady but he could be his cousin. The scene where the family buries the dog Cady kills is as fresh and moving as it was the first time I read it. The wife is a tough woman, not the Polly Bergen version. And protagonist Sam, while not a typical MacDonald tough guy, is not the cipher he seems to be in the movie. JDM gives him real depth here.

The Executioners would be written very differently today. It would be angrier, bloodier, more brutal in terms of Cady's psychology (Mitchum got it exactly). But for me The Executioners bears re-reading because it's one of the best stories told by one of the best storytellers of my time on the planet.

1 comment:

Todd Mason said...

Still vastly better than either film, even with Mitchum in the first.

The very fact that the married couple are the Executioners of the title is more powerful than anything in the films. (And this isn't even a spoiler, unless something which becomes true by the end of the first short chapter is a spoiler.)