Re: RARA-AVIS: Paen to MacDonald

From: pabergin (
Date: 29 Apr 2000

Zomboy wrote of JDM:
>for some reason, he usually feels obligated to throw in some do-good
>(Our Heroes) who cause the books to drag like a soap opera

Astute observation. In this respect, he stands outside the Florida tradition of crime fiction -- which, from its infancy in the pulps, was characterized by the use of antiheroes or morally ambiguous protagonists to a far greater extent than any other regional "school" of writing -- yet he is probably still the author most identified with the state. From all accounts, John D was a "proper" man, with deeply ingrained notions of right or wrong. There is a fairly well-known anecdote of him trying to punch out a fellow Liars' Lunch member because the man used profanity in front of a woman, which enraged MacDonald. It's not hard to imagine such a man being more comfortable with clearly-defined, traditionally heroic protagonists.

He occasionally used flawed heroes, but not often. Park Faulkner, the people-manipulator and sybarite who some consider to be the prototype for Travis McGee, can lay no claim to moral superiority. And Sam Bryce, the hero of WHERE IS JANICE GANTRY? is deeply compromised by his past. The narrator of DEAD LOW TIDE, whose name escapes me at the moment, comes across as being naive to the point of stupidity.

But these are exceptions. Most of JDM's heroes were traditionally heroic types.

That said, I have to admit that WHERE IS JANICE GANTRY? and DEAD LOW TIDE are two of my favorite MacDonald novels, along with THE DROWNER, THE CROSSROADS, and SLAM THE BIG DOOR.

I think his non-series work is far superior to the McGees. Hell, I even like MURDER IN THE WIND. True, it's more melodrama than mystery, but no one -- before or since -- has ever described the fury of a major hurricane more convincingly or with greater art. PB

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