Saturday, June 15, 2013

A Key to the Suite - Where the Boys All Go

My perspective on John D. MacDonald's novel A Key to the Suite comes from 6 years of working at a resort in Scottsdale Arizona back in the first half of the nineties. MacDonald's novel is set in a resort in the early sixties and follows the shenanigans of a handful of conventioneers as they maneuver, plot, climb and back-stab each other up and around that corporate ladder that we've all been sold a bill of goods on. This is the "organization man" at his ugliest, and by the end of the novel, no one comes up smelling pretty.

My association with conventions begin as a resort security officer, pulling night shifts guarding showroom displays and convincing drunks that the turn-down girls were not there to do anything more than turn down sheets and leave mints on the pillows. Later I had the (no-so-great) pleasure of preparing the resort billing for conventions, which mostly meant debating how much on average a person may consume at an open bar staffed by bartenders looking out for their 18% gratuities. That and insisting that no, I was not able to make the golf charges look like meeting room rental charges. And you haven't lived until you've been stampeded over in the restrooms by a convention meeting that has just let out; with all the windy cacophony of spitting, farting and horking rattling off the tiled stalls and porcelain urinals.

But enough of all that. Here's a look at MacDonald's cynical 1962 pot-boiler.

Fawcett Gold Medal, August 1980
The huge hotel, now being brushed and polished by the maintenance crews, was like some bawdy, obese, degenerate old queen who, having endured prolonged orgy, was now being temporarily restored to a suitable regal condition by all the knaves and wenches who serve her. 

Enter into this setting is one Floyd Hubbard, an earnest, seemingly decent enough guy in his early thirties, looking to do the right thing by his bosses as he makes his way up the executive ladder. He's tagged right away as an ax-man by the rest of the joes attending the convention, most notably by a charmer named Fred Frick. Frick is looking out for his boss in crime, Jesse Mulaney. Mulaney is one of those bullshit artist, hail-fellow-well-met kind of backslappers who's managed to coast his way into a slot beyond his talents, brains and capabilities. Mulaney probably isn't the worst guy you'd want to know, but his antics have become such that the lords on mahogany row have deemed his usefulness to the corporation lacking. Frick, on the other hand, is one of those slimy creatures that MacDonald creates so well, the sort of guy with a greasy grin and yellow teeth and a phone number in his little black book that could fix any situation, legal or illegal. Frick's big idea is to hire a flooze to show up and rock the high and mighty Floyd Hubbard off his pedestal and tarnishing his sterling reputation. Once the execs back home see that Floyd pilots a tin horse, they'll hardly take any advice from him about the worthiness of good old Jesse Mulaney. That's the plan anyway.

The girl is Cory Barlund. Cory is a high priced call girl of very selective standards. She has no problem turning down a client, no matter who he is or how much cash he wants to drop. Cory is sent to Frick by her "madame", a shadowy babe known as Alma. Alma has supplied many of the guys with ladies of free spirit from her stables, and knows that Cory, in spite of being a bit of a pain in the ass, is just the girl for the job Frick has in mind.

...The busy, important man, sweets, does better with a high-level pro. All the questions are answered before you start. If he wants to do the town, he'll know she'll look good enough and dress well enough to take anywhere. And she won't get plotzed or chew with her mouth open or leave him for somebody else in the middle of the evening. He knows just how the evening is going to end up, and he knows she'll be good at it, and he knows there won't be any letters or phone calls or visits a couple of weeks or months later. It's efficiency, sweets. Modern management methods. 

That's the philosophy here anyway. Too bad things just don't work out as planned.

This novel is as good as any of MacDonald's novels, which means it's a pretty damn good read. Some of the dialog and mores may be a bit dated, but that's the fun of reading old books like this. You get a glimpse into a world that existed at one point in time outside our own. Something to ponder next time you're on Spring Break.


  1. Nice review, Kurt. I remember reading this book and enjoying it several years ago. I agree that it's one of MacDonald's better stand-alones.

  2. Hi Jim, I think so too. I was lucky enough to find most of MacDonald's stand-alones a ways back in used bookstores. I always enjoy his novels.