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A Tan And Sandy Silence, and The Long Lavender Look by John D McDonald

Much of a muchness 1
Travis McGee novels are all uniformly rather good; entertaining narratives, jovial floridity, good-old-fashioned misogyny, guns, birds, boats and booze. Sadly, when read one after the other, this means that such trivial little things as plots get hard to differentiate from each other. My mistake therefore has been to read these two contiguously with no other literary diversion in between, as I can now no longer remember what happens in each. For those who like that sort of thing, I will attempt a limited, non-spoiling plot summary but, understandably, this may become confused and disorientating, so be warned. One thing I will say before I begin such a fool’s errand is that contrary to my opening statement, the previous Trav narrative I read, which may or may not have been Dress Her In Indigo, was disappointing, and these two novels represent a welcome return to a more polished form of gruff and chivalric silliness.

Much of a muchness 2

Travis runs his big daft car off the road after nearly killing a half-naked lady whose husband comes aboard his boat to shoot him for stealing his wife from him even though she’s dead and a girl whose family are inbred weirdoes but whose brother is a Canadian tennis, skiing and law prodigy and also a psycho is impersonating her on a Caribbean island resort and bonking a sailor who is no match for Trav’s wily masculinity. Somewhere here the hirsute Meyer makes several appearances and gets bonked on the head / kidnapped before someone gets tar poured on them and dumped in a sinkhole. There’re some overly metaphorical sex scenes and Trav worries he’s losing his edge before realising a healthy respect for death and the limitations of one’s body and mind contribute to keeping one alive. Cue the drinking of Plymouth Gin.

There are several notable and perhaps laudable things about the writing of John D MacDonald. Not least amongst them is his resistance to foul language – nary an S or F word to be found, and definitely no C-bombs – but also his reluctance to mention Vietnam, something that was probably at the forefront on the public consciousness at the time of writing (that and Capitalism).  Ecological concerns also get an occasional look-in, with musings on the consequences of the human stain. Violence is purely technical (how to chop someone’s Adam’s apple, how best to roll to avoid a left-handed shooter etc.) or described for the horrific brutality (including rare sexual violence but also casual slaps of the missus to keep her in line). And it’s all done with such rare elegance of language that it only ever feels dated when he overlooks logging-in to Facebook to check incriminating photographs or how someone’s identity holds up under scrutiny. I may be derisive in tone and content, but I do genuinely enjoy his novels, so much so that I dismantled a wedding breakfast centre-piece to steal a hard-back version of one of his 1959 hard-boiled novels A Deadly Welcome. If you’re after a better endorsement, consider this, from Kurt Vonnegut Jnr (who died this day – or maybe yesterday – back in 2007):
“To diggers a thousand years from now . . . the works of John D. MacDonald would be a treasure on the order of the tomb of Tutankhamen.”

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How's about that then?

Apochryphal Tales by Karel Čapek

Many (many) years ago, when I first read War With The Newts, after scouring the Waterstones' internal database (whimsically named Ibid, and from which one could print the details of books onto the till roll in light- and so it seems, time-sensitive purple ink which, on the inches thick ream of leaves I printed for future perusal, faded within a few months rendering my catalogued wish list so much locker mulch) for authors with a suitably Czech-sounding name, having put away an entrée of my first slim Hrabal, a palate-cleansing Kundera and in need of a meaty Moravian main course, I think I might have completely and totally missed just how funny it was, bloated as I was by the doughy and Victorian-sounding translation and the rather unlikely ideation of the future political terroir of mankind and their unusual amphibian slaves and, latterly, sappers, the newts.

How's that for a sentence David Foster Wallace? INTERROBANG.

Well, there's no chance that Čapek's typically Czech…

Free Fall In Crimson by John D. MacDonald

Trav is back, still grieving the loss of some chickadee or other whose death almost knocked him off his game, but not too shook up to set himself up with a few more lucky lovelies whilst tripping his way through another overly complicated and rather sordidly underwhelming plot. This time, some bikers are making dirty movies with minors on the set of a future classic hot-air-balloon movie. Travis falls into the action because a rich old geyser carks it in unusual circumstances and it affects the trust fund of a former marina-mate. And hirsute intellectual Meyer wets his pants towards the end. 

You may sense a fatigued, sardonic note in my precis. It's not that I don't still love John D., it's just that after embarking on the long game that is reading the entire Travis McGee oeuvre, I'm approaching the end and it feels long overdue. It's been fun, it's been enlightening, but it's also been a schlep. With the realisation I might now have fewer years left to me …

The Lost Time Accidents by John Wray

Fup by Jim Dodge

If there was a comfort-food version of a book for me, then this would be it. It's funny, touching, humanistic, and features so many quotable quotes that its trim 120 pages could be represented in its entirety on some such authors' quotations page.

We're introduced to Tiny on the occasion of his mother's death, lured into a treacherously fatal situation by, of all things, a duck, while her 4-year-old son sleeps in the car where he wakes to a terrifying solitude. Meanwhile, we're treated to a potted but entertaining history of Granddaddy Jake, Tiny's grandfather, into whose care by fair means or foul (no pun intended) he is finally placed. But the titular Fup duck comes along only once Tiny is fully grown (and how!). A lost and lonely duckling, much like Tiny, she's discovered shivering in a freshly dug post hole, which betrays the attention paid to it by Tiny's nemesis, a wild hog called Lockjaw, who enjoys tearing up Tiny's fences just as much as he …