What I Read in August 2018

I read three rather small books in August, then got sucked into a rather long biography about Napoleon that I still have not finished. Most of these books were bad. I picked up a handful of John MacDonald paperbacks at a library sale, mostly due to the mildly salacious covers some of them had, and finally got around to reading them. Turns out, that wasn’t a great decision; I mostly disliked them.

The Man in the Brown Suit

Agatha Christie

This is another of Christie’s works that doesn’t fit neatly into the mystery genre, like Destination Unknown or Passenger to Frankfurt. The Man in the Brown Suit is a thriller. There is a mystery at the heart of it, but it is mostly about the protagonist’s big adventure. That protagonist, Anne Beddingfield, is the strange mix of dippy and entirely competent. She witnesses a murder on the subway and tries to investigate it. That leads her to South Africa and mystery involving stolen diamonds. On the boat to South Africa, Anne meets a lot of interesting characters and has to try to discover who is the killer. While that sounds like a mystery set up, and that is there, it mostly is just an adventure story, with Anne getting into various scrapes and intrigues as she gets closer to finding everything out. Which she does through accident and persistence, not any understanding of the mystery. While the protagonist is an interesting point of view character for this kind of story, the rest of the book isn’t anything particularly memorable.

The Dreadful Lemon Sky

John MacDonald

Travis McGee meets with an old friend on his boat, who offers him $10,000 to watch a suitcase full of money for her for two weeks. Before that time is up, she winds up dead and Travis sets out trying to find out what happened. Other than some problems on the periphery, this is a pretty solid mystery. Set in coastal Florida, it plays out like kind of sun bleached noir story. Honestly, it was pretty entertaining, easily the best of the three MacDonald books I read.

The problems, which were apparent in this book and cemented as more than an accident in the next two books, mostly have to do with how MacDonald deals with women. I shouldn’t have been surprised, again I bought the books after being intrigued by their slightly lurid covers (though not this one), but MacDonald does not write women well. Or at all, really. At least twice in this book the protagonist, who is otherwise portrayed as a good guy, witnesses first hand men beating women. His reaction both times is that he wished he wasn’t there, because he doesn’t want to get involved or start a fight. As if seeing a drunk man punch his wife shouldn’t already have him intervening. That is the most prominent example, but it is far from the only one. Every woman he meets during his investigation gets the same treatment. McGee also frequently sleeps with them; he is apparently irresistible to women. At least the mystery, having to do with smuggling drugs along the coast, is solid.

On the Run

John MacDonald

This reads essentially like the first half of a Bond story. An old man is dying and wants to see his two estranged grandchildren before he dies. One is a low level scumbag with ties to the mob. The other is on the run and in hiding from mobsters after some unpleasantness with his wife. Eventually, the younger grandson, the one in hiding, is found and convinced to return to see his grandfather. Along the way he falls in love with the nurse sent to track him down. Then tragedy strikes, setting up the main character to seek revenge on the people responsible. Except that is where the book ends, and there were no sequels. It is the first part of a Bond story, where he meets a girl and she dies. Spoilers, I guess. It is just a short novel about how the protagonist is motivated to get revenge on the men who have been trying to kill him for a decade because they killed the woman he loved. Everything else is misdirection and this book sucks.

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