RARA-AVIS: Gold Medal Month: The Last Hurrah

From: George C. Upper III ( gcupper3@yahoo.com)
Date: 31 Aug 2002

In honor of Gold Medal Month, I read John D. MacDonald's first three novels--THE BRASS CUPCAKE, JUDGE ME NOT and MURDER FOR THE BRIDE. The short version: all three are worth a read.

I love the blurb on the front of CUPCAKE: "With a girl like Letty, a guy never knew whether he was getting the brass cupcake, the gold ring, the wooden nickel, or the lead slug...until it was too late." This is Gold Medal perfection--First, Letty is an exceptionally minor character in the novel compared to Melody Chance, in fact she only appears two times that really matter (I'm not counting a quick cameo appearance or two). Second, the protagonist, Cliff, never "gets" her at all in any sense of the word. Third, whatever "brass cupcake" may have meant in 1950 slang (and I'm not sure it meant anything), it's used in the context of the cover blurb in a different way than JDM uses the phrase in the novel. My copy is a reprint (of course; like I could afford a first edition) from the mid-sixties or so, judging from the listed "Other Gold Medal Books" by JDM, which include, for example, only the first five McGees. It makes me wonder whether whoever was writing the cover blurbs in the sixties actually read the books.

I like the blurb for JUDGE ME NOT better: "Everything they said about what she was and what she did was true." Although the back cover material indicates that this refers to the whore-with-a-heart-of-gold in the novel, there are at least three other women it could be talking about. In fact, since no one really talked about what the WWAHOG (I think I'd better copyright that) "was" or "did," it might fit one of the other choices better. A great book, though, with a nice dark ending. (Again, I own a reprint. This one looks to be a year or two later, as there are six McGees listed and the cover price has gone up a dime to 50 cents--which is, oddly enough, what I paid for CUPCAKE).

Finally, MURDER FOR THE BRIDE, though my edition hails from the same period as CUPCAKE (40 cent cover price, five McGees), has no nice blurb worth discussing. The novel is a good read, and I could write a paper--maybe someday I will--on the sex in it. Dillon Bryant beds three women: his wife who is sexually adept but using him; a spy/seductress who is sexy enough while trying to rob Bryant, then cold when their relationship becomes more personal, then warmer as it becomes more personal; and a reporter who is colder still (I don't mean reluctant; I mean what used to be called
"frigid") until she's sure it's true love, and then can't wait to jump in bed even though Dillon prefers to wait for marriage.

And that, my friends, is the worst sentence I've ever written.

Anyway, as I said, all worth a read. I prefer the first two--despite MURDER being billed as a "classic novel of high suspense," it never quite got me on the edge of my seat wondering who would get caught for what and when. CUPCAKE is probably the best of the three, which I find particularly impressive in a first novel.

But I'll save the rest of my JDM collection--Gold Medals or not--for their proper decades. With September free, I'm going back to trying to finish all the books in the Robicheaux series.


===== George C. Upper III, Editor The Lightning Bell Poetry Journal http://www.lightningbell.org/

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