Authors: John D. MacDonald
John D. MacDonald
“My favorite novelist of all time.”
“For my money, John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee is one of the great characters in contemporary American fiction—not crime fiction; fiction,
—and millions of readers surely agree.”
The Washington Post
“MacDonald isn’t simply popular; he’s also good.”
“MacDonald’s books are narcotic and, once hooked, a reader can’t kick the habit until the supply runs out.”
—Chicago Tribune Book World
“Travis McGee is one of the most enduring and unusual heroes in detective fiction.”
The Baltimore Sun
“John D. MacDonald remains one of my idols.”
“A dominant influence on writers crafting the continuing series character.”
“The Dickens of mid-century America—popular, prolific and … conscience-ridden about his environment.… A thoroughly American author.”
The Boston Globe
“It will be for his crisply written, smoothly plotted mysteries that MacDonald will be remembered.”
“MacDonald had the marvelous ability to create attention-getting characters who doubled as social critics. In MacDonald novels, it is the rule rather than the exception to find, in the midst of violence and mayhem, a sentence, a paragraph, or several pages of rumination on love, morality, religion, architecture, politics, business, the general state of the world or of Florida.”
“There’s only one thing as good as reading a John D. MacDonald novel: reading it again. A writer way ahead of his time, his Travis McGee books are as entertaining, insightful, and suspenseful today as the moment I first read them. He is the all-time master of the American mystery novel.”
“One of the great sagas in American fiction.”
“In McGee mysteries and other novels as well, MacDonald’s voice was one of a social historian.”
Los Angeles Times
The Quick Red Fox
is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
2013 Random House Trade Paperback Edition
Copyright © 1964 by John D. MacDonald Publishing, Inc.
Copyright renewed 1992 by Maynard MacDonald
Introduction copyright © 2013 by Lee Child
A Deadly Shade of Gold
by John D. MacDonald copyright © 1965 by John
D. MacDonald Publishing, Inc., copyright renewed 1993 by Maynard MacDonald
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Random House Trade Paperbacks, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
and colophon are trademarks of Random House, Inc.
Originally published in paperback in the United States by Fawcett, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc.,
New York, in 1964.
Cover design: Joe Montgomery
Cover photograph: © Adrian Houston (woman in pool) /GalleryStock; Samuel Hicks (red hair) /GalleryStock
Suspense fiction trades on surprising and unexpected twists. Like this one: A boy named John Dann MacDonald was born in 1916 in Sharon, Pennsylvania, into the kind of quiet and comfortable middle-class prosperity that became common in America forty or fifty years later but which was still relatively rare early in the century. Sharon was a satellite town near Pittsburgh, dominated by precision metalworking, and John’s father was a mild-mannered and upstanding citizen with secure and prestigious salaried employment as a senior financial executive with a local manufacturer. Young John was called Jack as a child, and wore sailor suits, and grew up in a substantial suburban house on a tree-lined block. He read books, played with his dog, and teased his little sister and his cousin. When he was eighteen, his father funded a long European grand tour for him, advising him by letter “to make the best of it … to eat and function regularly … to be sure and attend a religious service
at least once on each Sunday … to keep a record of your expenditures as a training for your college days.”
Safely returned, young Jack went on to two decent East Coast schools, and married a fellow student, and went to Harvard for an MBA, and volunteered for the army in 1940, and finished World War II as a lieutenant colonel, after thoroughly satisfactory service as a serious, earnest, bespectacled, rear-echelon staff officer.
So what does such a fellow do next? Does he join General Motors? IBM? Work for the Pentagon?
In John D. MacDonald’s case, he becomes an impoverished writer of pulp fiction.
During his first four postwar months, he lost twenty pounds by sitting at a table and hammering out 800,000 unsold words. Then in his fifth month he sold a story for twenty-five bucks. Then another for forty bucks, and eventually more than five hundred. Sometimes entire issues of pulp magazines were all his own work, disguised under dozens of different pen names. Then in 1950 he watched the contemporary boom in paperback novels and jumped in with his first full-length work, which was followed by sixty-six more, including some really seminal crime fiction and one of history’s greatest suspense series.
Why? Why did a middle-class Harvard MBA with extensive corporate connections and a gold-plated recommendation from the army turn his back on everything apparently predestined, to sit at a battered table and type, with an anxious wife at his side? No one knows. He never explained. It’s a mystery.
But we can speculate. Perhaps he never wanted a quiet and comfortable middle-class life. Perhaps, after finding himself amid the chaos of war, he felt able to liberate himself from the crushing filial expectations he had previously followed so obediently.
As an eighteen-year-old, it’s hard to say no to the father who just paid for a trip to Europe. Eleven years later, as a lieutenant colonel, it’s easier.
And we know from what he wrote that he felt he had something to say to the world. His early stuff was whatever put food on that battered table—detective stories, westerns, adventure stories, sports stories, and even some science fiction—but soon enough his long-form fiction began to develop some enduring and intertwined themes. From
A Deadly Shade of Gold
, a Travis McGee title: “The only thing in the world worth a damn is the strange, touching, pathetic, awesome nobility of the individual human spirit.” From the stand-alone thriller
Where Is Janice Gantry?
: “Somebody has to be tireless, or the fast-buck operators would asphalt the entire coast, fill every bay, and slay every living thing incapable of carrying a wallet.”
These two angles show up everywhere in his novels: the need to—maybe reluctantly, possibly even grumpily—stand up and be counted on behalf of the weak, helpless, and downtrodden, which included people, animals, and what we now call
—which was in itself a very early and very prescient concern:
, for instance, predated Rachel Carson’s groundbreaking
by a whole year.
But the good knight’s armor was always tarnished and rusted. The fight was never easy and, one feels, never actually winnable. But it had to be waged. This strange, weary blend of nobility and cynicism is MacDonald’s signature emotion. Where did it come from? Not, presumably, the leafy block where he was raised in quiet and comfort. The war must have changed him, like it changed a generation and the world.
Probably the best of his nonseries novels is
, which became
as a movie (twice). It’s an acute psychological
study of base instinct, terror, mistakes, and raw emotion. It’s about a man—possibly a man like MacDonald’s father, or like MacDonald himself—who moves out of his quiet and comfort into more primeval terrain. And those twin poles are the theme of the sensationally good Travis McGee series, which is a canon equaled for enduring quality and maturity by very little else. McGee is a quiet man, internally bewildered by and raging at what passes for modern progress, externally happy merely to be varnishing the decks of his houseboat and polishing its brass, but always ready to saddle up and ride off in the service of those who need and deserve his help. Again, not the product of the privileged youth enjoyed by the salaried executive’s son.
So where did McGee and MacDonald’s other heroes come from? Why Florida? Why the jaundiced concerns? We will never know. But maybe we can work it out, by mining the millions of words written with such haste and urgency and passion between 1945 and 1986.
A big noisy wind out of the northeast, full of a February chill, herded the tourists off the afternoon beach, driving them to cover, complaining bitterly. It picked up gray slabs of the Atlantic and smacked them down on the public beach across the highway from Bahia Mar. It rattled loose sand across the windshields of the traffic, came into the cramped acres of docks and boat basin, snapped the burgees and went
in the spider-webs of rigging and tuna towers. Fort Lauderdale was a dead loss for the tourists that Saturday afternoon. They would have been more comfortable back in Scranton.
I was cozied up in the big lounge of the
, my houseboat moored at Slip F-18. My electric heat was turned to high-high. I was stretched out on the big yellow couch and clad in ratty old wool slacks and an old Norm Thompson flannel shirt, faded to a sky blue over the treasured years.
A few days earlier I had junked my old speakers in favor of a
pair of AR-3’s, and had bracket-mounted them on the far wall. The Scott tuner was locked into WAEZ in Miami, and the Fisher amplifier was driving the new speakers very handsomely. They were broadcasting that Columbia recording of Bernstein conducting the Shostakovich
, one hell of a big bold heroic piece of music, and I had the gain high enough to do it justice. You could shut your eyes and float on it.
Skeeter was across the room, hunched over her drawing board. She was wearing gray corduroy coveralls, too big for her. All her clothes always seem too big for her. She is thirty, I think, and looks eighteen. She has cobweb blonde hair, constantly adrift, a Raggedy Ann face, and a narrow graceful immature figure. She is not very well organized, but she makes a pretty fair living doing illustrations for children’s books under the pseudonym of Annamara. My friend Meyer found her on the beach a year or so ago. That hairy, ugly, charming fellow can walk down a beach and collect a rare people the way anyone else might pick up a left-handed whelk.