I bought this paperback book from Downtown Books in Milwaukee for $1.95, but that comes as no surprise to you, gentle reader, if you’ve paid attention to the book reports I’ve proffered. I love John D. MacDonald and had I not sworn allegiance to Robert B. Parker at an early age, you know I would be a paladin in the service of John D. MacDonald. But that explains why I have this book, but not what I thought of it.
The book, like most paperbacks of the era, runs about 190 pages, unlike the unwieldy behemoths published today (to justify their $30 price tags). Working within these constraints, MacDonald provides an interesting riff. He spends the first half of the book detailing a number of separate travellers’ lives, from the failed businessman moving back to New York to the agent at the end of his vengeance quest to the prison escapees. travelling north on Florida’s west coast as a hurricane strikes. They’re thrown into an abandoned house to weather the storm, with the results one might expect from the collision of Man vs. Man, Man vs. Nature, and Man vs. Himself conflicts colliding. Brother, it’s bad enough to collide, but when collisions collide, watch out.
Still, within the compact framework, MacDonald spends the first 100+ pages on individual character studies discussing whose lives will come into conflict at the last half of the novel. That’s okay if you’re going to read the novel in a sitting or two, but if you’re going to spread the novel over a week or so, you might find yourself at a critical moment wondering who is Stark? Who is Mallard? Are they even characters in this book? Heck’s pecs, I don’t know. But when the separate lives come together circa page 110, the book becomes unputdownable.
Unfortunately, those first 100 pages do make the book seem as though a series of short stories lacked resolution which was grafted on, or as though a novella had been padded into a novel. Still, if you’re a fan of MacDonald or if you’re wondering what a cynic would have thought of Florida development throughout the fifties, you’d find the book enjoyable. I’d read one of MacDonald’s shopping lists if he were to characterize each item on it.
But this book probably only acted, for MacDonald, as a rough draft for Condominium. Thirty years earlier. Brother, if I am recycling my underread 2005 material, successfully, in 2035, I will consider myself a successful writer worthy of paladinage decades into the future.