Monday, September 24, 2007

Everything I Consume: A Deadly Shade of Gold

This is classic John D. MacDonald. Our hero, Travis McGee, sleeps with three women, gets shot twice and there are about a dozen corpses. In between detective work and gunplay there's a lot of philosophizing and critical observations of American culture, circa 1965. Travis is every man's fantasy; he's great with the ladies and a gun, more sharp than smart, doesn't take crap from anyone and lives on a houseboat. He sleeps with women but never takes advantage of them. Here's a good description of McGee from an article by Doug Bassett: "McGee is an odd duck, no doubt about it – to use Ed Gorman’s memorable phrase, he was 'a Rotarian’s fantasy of the Cool Guy.' And at his worst, mostly in the early books, he’s quite contrived, an odd bundle of Fifties morality paired with Sixties ratpack 'coolness.' "

I like MacDonald but his writing and plots are often too complicated for my taste. He's definitely a link between the spare style and shorter books of early hardboiled writers like Chandler, Hammett and Ross MacDonald and the more modern style with more characterization and longer stories of writers like Robert Parker and Robert Crais.

One of my favorite parts of the book, and something that tells you a lot about the kind of writer MacDonald is, is when he Travis asks his lady friend if she is Catholic. She give a page-long response about how she had faith as a child and it meant so much to her but lost it when her brother died young, and now she clings to it as nostalgic link to her past. It turns out he wants her to ask the priest a few questions about some people they're looking for. Here's how a few other writers would handle the situation.

Arthur Conan Doyle: "A papist such as yourself should have no trouble asking the priest a few questions"
"I…I will do it , Mr. Holmes," Nora said bravely.
"Holmes, how did you know the woman was a Catholic?"
"It is simple Watson, the vast majority of Italians are Catholic, I merely took an educated guess and was proven correct."

Mickey Spillane: "Listen, Padre, the last time I saw my friend he was lying in a pool of gore in a motel room. Are you gonna tell me what I want to know?"

Dashiell Hammett: "Luckily, Nora was Catholic and after hearing too much of her life story agreed to talk to the priest. She found out plenty."

Ross MacDonald: Lew Archer would just ask the priest himself who would answer all his questions and tell Archer the entire backstory.