Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Dead Low Tide by John D. MacDonald

John D. MacDonald wrote dozens of quality thrillers, and while I am a fan of his famous Travis McGee series, it’s those other titles that continue to intrigue me. I’ve never read one that I didn’t like, although I have my favorites such as Dead Low Tide. This awesome thriller is a 1953 Fawcett Gold Medal paperback. I wouldn’t rate it as his best, nor would I put in the classic category, but it’s damn good, and that’s better than a lot of these popular series writers today. I think “damn good” will become an official category going forward on this blog. The set-up here is straightforward – Andrew Hale McClintock is a college graduate working a nowhere job for a Florida construction firm. He has a part-time dish of a girlfriend named Christy. He’s basically got the blues, wondering what the future will hold. He feels that his potential is being wasted. That’s when the boss’s wife asks him to find out what’s bothering her husband.  He figures out the old boy might be dying, and after a confrontation the boss gives Andrew a nice contract that provides for Andrew even if the boss, Mr. Long, isn’t around any longer. Naturally, the boss ends up dead, killed with Andrew’s spear gun that had been stolen from his garage only the night before. The story didn’t quite play out as I expected, which is fine, and I liked that Andrew and Christy’s relationship isn’t window dressing. She serves as an opposite for Andrew who regularly shares ideas with her. It all ties up perhaps too nicely, and you might even call the last paragraph a “happy ending.” But I like MacDonald’s clipped, highly charged prose. He made his name writing these thrillers, and somewhere I even have a pulp magazine with one of his science fiction stories. These great MacDonald thrillers were from that bygone era of paperback writers like Mickey Spillane, Ross MacDonald, Frank Kane and Richard S. Prather. Is there anyone out there now half as good as those guys? Here’s how MacDonald describes the boss’s wife when she comes calling: “It was the first time I’d ever had a good chance to look at her face. Big bright eyes, and just a shade too much in the tooth department, so she had a very faint look of coming out of one of Disney’s woodland dells.” Flourishes like that are sprinkled throughout all of MacDonald’s books. Dead Low Tide offers up proportionate doses of sexual tension, greed, desperation and murder. Dead Low Tide is a pretty damn good page turner.


  1. A fine paperback thriller, but I read how it was Ed Gorman's favorite MacDonald book so I read it with pretty high expectations.
    Trying not to unload spoilers here, but there's a scene of great emotional power. You know the one I mean. And it is later 'unmade' in a fashion that I felt was kind of a cheat on both an emotional and a narrative level.
    Still a damn good book for all that.

  2. Thanks, yep, that plot twist and emotional roller coaster was a bit contrived, and the last 50 pages were a bit “talkative” but somehow it all worked, thanks!

  3. Hey, Thomas, nicely detailed review of one of my favorite JDM books. One of his few failings was his boy-girl dialogue. He did like cutey pie stuff. But the books were so fine I never cared about a few glitches. Hell Hemingway's stuff has a few glitches.

  4. Nice review of one of my favorite writers. This was the first book that I'd read by JDM and it's remained a favorite of mine as well. I was a teenager, in Tampa, and a friend of my dad's turned me on to JDM's books. This one, Bullet for Cinderella and Soft Touch are my top 3 favorites. I began the hunt in used stores and picked up many of them after Dead Low Tide. I still have many of them.

  5. Thanks Ed, Kurt and Peter for checking in and commenting. I love the fact that there are so many readers that connect with these books. I think JDM must be one of the all time favorites that I've reviewed. I have a nice stack of his paperbacks to pull from so I'll get to more at a later date. Thanks again for commenting! Tom


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