John D. MacDonald is one of my favorite authors. Period.
I first read MacDonald when I was about thirteen: The Dreadful Lemon Sky. I didn’t care too much for it on my first read; I was coming off reading Agatha Christie and Ellery Queen and Erle Stanley Gardner and Charlotte Armstrong, and was deep into my Victoria Holt/Phyllis Whitney phase, so I was confused–this isn’t a mystery at all, I remember thinking as I read it…and ironically, it was this enormous disappointment that led to me moving away from reading mystery/crime novels for a very long time.
When I was about sixteen, I bought a couple of ratty old MacDonald paperbacks for a dime each at a flea market: Murder in the Wind, The Crossroads, and The Drowner. These were three of his stand-alones from his pulp days, before he started writing the Travis McGee series, and I loved all three of them. This was my first experience with pulp fiction/noir; it was shortly after this that I went on my James M. Cain kick, and slowly came to an appreciation of the less-traditional style of crime novel. Years later, when Grafton, Muller and Paretsky brought me back into reading crime, I remembered how much I’d enjoyed those pulpy MacDonalds and decided to give Travis McGee another try. I bought another copy of The Dreadful Lemon Sky, and this time, the character caught on with me–and soon I was tearing through the entire series. The earlier MacDonald novels had all mostly gone out of print, but he periodically was still writing stand-alones; still dark and twisty and noir and pulpy, but these novels had more heft–Condominium, One More Sunday, Barrier Island–and I think those later three don’t get the credit they deserve.
In the last few years I’ve been acquiring used copies of those old MacDonald pulp stand-alones–and while they are dated, they are still compelling reads. And yes, as I have said before, Chanse MacLeod owes a lot to Travis McGee.
So, you can IMAGINE my thrill that the MacDonald Estate allowed me to reprint one of his stories in Florida Happens.
From his website: This website is devoted to John D. MacDonald, author of 78 books, including the famous Travis McGee series. JDM is well-known in mystery fiction writing, especially for his books with Florida as a setting. Most of the current Florida mystery writers acknowledge JDM’s impact on their writing.
Born In Sharon, Pa., MacDonald , as a young boy, wished he had been born a writer, believing that they were a separate “race,” marked from birth. But two years of writing 10 to 12 hours a day, 6 to 7 days a week, in 1945 and 1946, convinced him otherwise.
By the time he died he had published 78 books, with more than 75 million copies in print.
He married Dorothy Prentiss in a secret ceremony in 1937 in Pennsylvania and a public wedding was held in Poland, N.Y. in 1938.
He graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in business in 1939 and then went to Harvard to work on an MBA. His son, Maynard, was born that year.
He worked at several menial jobs after earning his MBA in 1939.
MacDonald then served in the Army beginning in 1940 at the Rochester N.Y Ordnance station. He was sent to India in late 1943, and was accepted in the OSS in late 1944 . He was sent to Ceylon where he was the Commander of Detachment 404. He was not a spy, however, but served in the Ordnance areas.
He wrote nearly 450 short stories, and published his first novel ,The Brass Cupcake, in 1950 (complete bibliography here) He continues to earn praise from millions of readers and lasting respect from fellow authors. He was given the Grandmaster Award in 1972 by the Mystery Writers of America; the Ben Franklin Award (1955);and was Guest of Honor at Bouchercon in 1983. Numerous other awards and Honorary Doctorates were given to him as well.
Perhaps the greatest testament to his writing, now decades after his death in 1986, is that his books continue to sell, movies continue to be planned, and the internet continues to serve as a place to discuss his work and related matters. See the Facebook Busted Flush group.
The story is “Hangover.”
He dreamed that he had dropped something, lost something of value in the furnace, and he lay on his side trying to look down at an angle through a little hole, look beyond the flame down into the dark guts of the furnace for what he had lost. But the flame kept pulsing through the hole with a brightness that hurt his eyes, with a heat that parched his face, pulsing with an intermittent husky rasping sound.
With his awakening, the dream became painfully explicable—the pulsing roar was his own harsh breathing, the parched feeling was a consuming thirst, the brightness was transmuted into pain intensely localized behind his eyes. When he opened his eyes, a long slant of early morning sun dazzled him, and he shut his eyes quickly again.
This was a morning time of awareness of discomfort so acute that he had no thought for anything beyond the appraisal of the body and its functions. Though he was dimly aware of psychic discomforts that might later exceed the anguish of the flesh, the immediacy of bodily pain localized his attentions. Even without the horizontal brightness of the sun, he would have known it was early. Long sleep would have muffled the beat of the taxed heart to a softened, sedate, and comfortable rhythm. But it was early and the heart knocked sharply with a violence and in a cadence almost hysterical, so that no matter how he turned his head, he could feel it, a tack hammer chipping away at his mortality.
His thirst was monstrous, undiminished by the random nausea that teased at the back of his throat. His hands and feet were cool, yet where his thighs touched he was sweaty. His body felt clotted, and he knew that he had perspired heavily during the evening, an oily perspiration that left an unpleasant residue when it dried. The pain behind his eyes was a slow bulging and shrinking, in contrapuntal rhythm to the clatter of his heart.
He sat on the edge of the bed, head bowed, eyes squeezed shut, cool trembling fingers resting on his bare knees. He felt weak, nauseated, and acutely depressed.
This was the great joke. This was a hangover. Thing of sly wink, of rueful guffaw. This was death in the morning.
Great, terrific writing.
And now I can say I edited an anthology with John D. MacDonald as a contributor.
I may never stop being thrilled.