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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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