Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Gems from the Kailua Library Bookstore – Part 3 – MacDonalds...Billions and billions published!

Ross MacDonald

Some years back I was overdosing on noir fiction from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. Of all the writers to emerge from that furious era, Ross Macdonald is by far my favorite. In 2000 (and into 2001), I was so inspired that I wrote a novel of my own which essentially ripped off MacDonald's signature formula: private investigator and wealthy dysfunctional family. In an example of indescribable luck, among the random literary agents to whom I’d sent query packages, one happened to represent MacDonald’s backlist of titles. He agreed to shop it around the publishing houses for me. It never got picked up and after a year of trying, we both gave up.

But before that awful resignation, I was strolling Hawaiian beaches in Kailua while mulling my imminently successful writing career. A trip to the Kailua Library Bookstore yielded this 1970’s Bantam paperback of The Barbarous Coast. This was a real find as it was still out of print at the time (later reissued in 2007 by Vintage Crime). A funny thing though: I remembered that my mother had this book in our bookshelf growing up and I distinctly remember looking at this cover. The scantily clad and highly distressed lady in the blurred photograph was kind of a haunting image for a kid. I never forgot it.

The Barbarous Coast was first published in 1956. Although it is a great book, I prefer MacDonald's books from the late 60’s, early 70’s.

John D. MacDonald

Ross MacDonald (who’s actually John Ross MacDonald) should not be confused with John D. MacDonald. The two emerged on the scene at the same time and apparently Ross lost out on retaining his true first name. Further friction emerged in the 70's when John D. protested Ross’s release of The Blue Hammer (John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee series all had colors in the titles).

Which brings us to the contribution which I’m highlighting in this post: The Lonely Silver Rain. This is the last Travis McGee story (the 21st) and was released in 1985. I find the early McGee stories (the first was in 1964) to be one-dimensional and somewhat misogynistic. In later books, McGee becomes more contemplative and cerebral investigator-slash-observer of humanity, demonstrating a sort of élan that Ross MacDonald’s Lew Archer achieves much earlier. A year after the release of The Lonely Silver Rain, John D. MacDonald would pass away at the age of 70.

As Ross’s Lew Archer series was the mystery mainstay of Southern California, John D.’s Travis McGee covers Southern Florida with equal texture. Both give you a strong sense of place. I find it fascinating to experience Southern California and Southern Florida though the lens these men created. Both continue to draw an indescribably fascination out of me.

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