RARA-AVIS: Theme of the Month: Work

From: William Denton ( buff@pobox.com)
Date: 12 Apr 2001

After reading the third of John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee books, I went on to the fourth, THE QUICK RED FOX. In the first four chapters McGee declines to make love to a beautiful movie star, a beautiful illustrator, and a beautiful alcoholic. There's a beautiful personal assistant to the movie star, but she's icy (until later, of course, but at the end she gets hit on the head and decides to leave him). There's a hilarious scene where McGee is threatened by two large, tough lesbians, and he whacks their behinds with the handle of a golf club. The salvage operation--cleaning up a blackmail operation--gets confused at the end, and there are lots of asides that would drive non-fans crazy, but I still liked it.

I read it to see if McGee discussed work, but there was nothing special. He pities and scorns people who go to dull jobs to pay for their dull lives in dull plastic modern society. Those are the same people that would read about him. He knows and likes to deal with experts, and respects them. He'd rather have money and not have to work, but he needs the adventure and the sense of being the tin knight.

Some suggestions that were made that relate to the theme of work: Jason Starr's books, Mr. Pelecanos' books, Gores' DKA books, Hamilton's Matt Helm books, Hammett's Op stories (except maybe THE DAIN CURSE), and Richard Stark's Parker series. Anyone have any comments about hardboiled writing and work? It's such an important theme, surely more people will have something to say. Why did all those tough dicks work so cheap when they kept getting hit on the head?

I read THE SHADOWERS earlier this week, #7 in the Matt Helm series, and it was very good. Same year, 1964, as THE QUICK RED FOX, and also from Fawcett Gold Medal. In this one, Helm's girlfriend dies in a car accident right off the bat, and he calls his boss Mac to say he can't stay on holiday any more and wants to come back to work. He gets in on an operation where enemy agents are shadowing important people, and he's to guard a scientist (a beautiful woman, of course). There's a fair bit of grim stuff, and he uses a completely innocent young woman to get out of a jam; she's later raped and beaten, and she ends up dead. Helm has to walk out on a woman who needs him. But it's his job, and innocent people get hurt. He tries to stop it when he can, but as everyone's noted, he's a professional killer, he takes his job very seriously, and he doesn't let anything get in his way. The ending is bleak.


William Denton : Toronto, Canada : http://www.miskatonic.org/ : Caveat lector.

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