RARA-AVIS: MacDonald's Deadly Welcome

From: Moorich2@aol.com
Date: 26 Jun 2003

John D. MacDonald's DEADLY WELCOME (1959) is not one of the better MacDonald novels but I gobbled it up anyway and enjoyed it thoroughly. It had been some time since I read a JDM and this was one of his novels I had never read. So I was primed for a dose of MacDonald storytelling and while flawed, he swept me up and carried me along for a good ride.

Alex Doyle is a State Department employee who is pulled off an assignment and sent to the Pentagon for special duty. A key man involved in missle research, a retired colonel, has left the government and retreated to a Florida cottage, refusing all contact with his former colleagues. The colonel had ended up in this small Florida town because he had married a young woman from there. The marriage had gone well at first but then she began to run wild and one night was murdered. The crime had never been solved. The colonel, always in delicate health, had become a recluse living in a beach house with his twin sister who was caring for him.

The Pentagon tried everything but could not reach the guy and appeal to him to return to work. He refused all contact (and his sister guarded the gate for him). The murder had been something of a sensation at the time of which Doyle knew nothing since he had been overseas.

Why was Doyle the choice to make a fresh attempt at contact? He was from the small town. He would not be a stranger. He would be a local guy returning home after working out of town for a few years. He would blend in and have the time to create an opportunity to meet the colonel.

Whew! This requires a lot of explanation to set the stage! Doyle does not want to do it because his past haunts him. He was a poor kid whose parents died when he was a kid and he was raised by a cousin. He became a star athelete and good student but on the night of his graduation he got drunk and was framed for a robbery of his cousin's store. A judge got him to plead guilty and join the service rather than go to trial. It was the most shameful moment of Doyle's life and the last place he wants to visit is his old hometown. In addition, he knew (and had a brief fling) with the colonel's late wife.

Doyle will have no support from the government. This is an assignment that will be off the books. So he creates a cover story and returns and rather quickly meets the colonel. This is one of my major problems with the novel. It is all just a bit too neat. Doyle sets in motion a plan to meet him and whosh, it works immediately and perfectly. He also seeks to solve the murder of the colonel's wife and trips over the murderer very quickly. There is also a young woman, the sister of the murdered woman. She worshiped Doyle when he was a hero in atheletics and she was about eight years old. Now she is fully grown and a beauty but unable to have a relationship because she is scarred by a terrible experience when she was a teenager. Perhaps with the patient love of the right man....Yes, yet another. I will say this example is one of the most belivable of the many that JDM created in this mold.

There's a lot to like here. One of MadDonald's better bad guys is in this novel--a deputy sheriff named Donnie Capp who is an artist with his billy club. The setup for the ending is abrupt but the climatic battle is a good one.

Overall, the novel feels like it was rushed. Too much was crammed into too small a novel. It originally appeared in a shorter form in "Cosmopolitan" and JDM novels with that beginning are seldom among his best.

Richard A. Moore

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