Acquisitions and Murders

Recent purchases from The Bookworm and the All You Can Eat Bookshop.

The flat is lousy with Marxian biographies now, and since I’ve made two video essays on a box set of their Paramount works, I’m not sure I’ll ever have cause to do the research and actually read the things. I just get a warm glow from owning them, and for having bought them cheap, and from not being able to move in the hideously cluttered Shadowplayhouse. Books as insulation.

Sexual Stratagems is full of essays by writers I like on filmmakers I like (Guy-Blache, Dulac, Deren), and the giant Selznick is as lavish as the man himself could have wished. Karl Brown’s memoir of camera assisting for Griffith HAS to be essential. I remember his vivacious appearance in Brownlow & Gill’s Hollywood, wildly enthused yet still properly sceptical of his former boss. The reason I might not get around to those in a hurry is John D. MacDonald.

These are the ones I’ve read. About five more I devoured are on loan to my mum, who is now similarly addicted. Only a few more Travis McGee’s to go. I’m consuming them out of sequence, based on having cleaned out the Bookworm’s supply and then grabbed whatever was cheap on AbeBooks. One will have to be a Kindle edition for economic reasons. I’m saving the last in the series till last.

The bad things about the series are closely connected to the good things: the independence or inconsistency of MacDonald/McGee’s sociopolitical positions keeps you guessing. Conservative with progressive flashes, romantic with cynical underpinnings or vice versa. The occasional ugliness — McGee is a roister-doisterer who respects women as people except sometimes he doesn’t — works as a frictive element. The fact that there’s a perceptible formula McDonald writes to — McGee will get horribly injured before the end, he will lay at least one beautiful woman, he will refuse another to show he has standards — adds a cosy element to the mayhem. The plotting is mostly unpredictable and exciting, the prose is beautiful in an unflashy way. Occasionally McDonald will write something that just isn’t plausible, in such a way that you wonder how a smart guy could slip up so badly. There’s one where the mystery solution is that three formerly (sorta) law-abiding citizens in a small social circle independently turned into murderers. Shades of A SHOT IN THE DARK, but McD doesn’t see the funny side.

But generally the crafting is good, and the research or life experience — probably mostly the former (McDonald mostly sat and wrote, I think) but cunningly disguised as the latter is constantly diverting. Never a dull spot.

McGee is a great series character — he takes his licks and emerges basically unchanged at the end of each novel. So he’s not quite suited to the movies. Could have worked on TV. I guess we got Magnum P.I. instead. Ugh. But that had John Hillerman. I was about to call him America’s greatest living actor, but it turns out I missed his death in 2017. I bet the Oscars roll call of the dead missed him out too. Damn.

4 Responses to “Acquisitions and Murders”

  1. I quit the Travis McGee series about five books in– more than anything, those damned monologues, whose bloviating anticipated Limbaugh, turned me off MacDonald and McGee simultaneously. May I recommend a less stentorian crime-novelist of the same period?: you can’t go wrong with a Ross Thomas novel, which mostly don’t serialize characters and are the better for their protean reinventions. Settings run from WWII to international art-marketing– he is especially good with labor union politics. I would especially recommend YELLOW DOG CONTRACT and THE EIGHTH DWARF.

  2. bensondonald Says:

    May I sneak in a plug for my Ruritanian Jazz Age fan fiction eBook “Her Temporary Prince”? For just $2.99 you get over 223,000 words. You’ll feel like you read a series.

  3. I’ll watch out for Ross Thomas.

    The McGee asides are OK when they’re short, I find, but he sometimes gets carried away and forgets he’s writing a thriller.

    By all means, Donald!

  4. bensondonald Says:

    It’s on Amazon, iBooks and numerous other eBookiaries. Published in 2018, now at … forty copies sold. Still time to get in on the ground floor!

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