Saturday, May 23, 2015

Pale Gray for Guilt - John D. MacDonald

"Drop out of the world. Hallucinate. Turn on. Dig the sounds and colors and feels. Be at one with the infinite something or other. I can't lay too big a knock on them, you know. In another sense I'm a dropout. I don't pay for my tickets. I jump over the turnstiles."

Fawcett Gold Medal

Travis McGee returns in his 9th adventure in the McGee series. Pale Gray for Guilt is a bit different from the previous McGee novels, in that there is less focus on the action, and more on vengeance via a long complicated con job on a couple unscrupulous developers along the Florida coast.

The novel is a bit slow getting its groove on, with the first 50 pages or so introducing us to Tush Bannon, Travis McGee's old football pal. Bannon has set up a marina and motel in Shawana County, Florida. He's having a tough go of making things work. His ten acre property is right in the middle of a potential commercial development. Investors like Preston LaFrance and Gary Santos are after Bannon's stake. Santos is a Miami bigshot who is staking a claim on 200 acres of land surrounding Bannon's quaint little digs. LaFrance is a shady real estate man with family connections in the Shawana County Commissioners Board. As a combined force, they make life hell for Bannon with the intention of forcing him to sell out on the cheap. They could care less that Bannon will end up broke and ruined. But Bannon is stubborn. He holds out against the odds. Then one day Bannon's body is found under a an engine block in his marina, along with sloppy evidence that he committed suicide. McGee smells a rat, a bunch of rats in fact, and takes it upon himself to make those rats pay.

The plot involves a complicated version of "the Pigeon Drop" wherein McGee and his pal Meyer set up apposing investment interests on Bannon's land and the area around it. MacDonald had an MBA from Syracuse, and he puts that background to good work in this novel. You can tell he's having fun with it. Perhaps too much fun as there are times that the con gets pretty complicated. But MacDonald is such a fine writer that he's able to maintain the interest and suspense, along with a desire to see the bastards get theirs before the last page is turned.

Par for the course with the Travis McGee series, you get a lot of asides picking at the threads of the social fabric of the times, in this case Florida in the late 60's. There are also the he-man-hairy-chested observations on the fairer sex. Perhaps things get a bit too wordy here and there. Characters tend to drop long monologues when a few terse sentences would suffice. But those are small quibbles. And thankfully, MacDonald hasn't forgotten to include a twisted psychopath into the plot before the end. Better late than never in this case.

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