Thursday, April 26, 2018
In this first tale, McGee is asked by Chookie McCall, a dancer friend (and owner of a perfect name in a novel like this) if he might have a listen to the story of another dancer, a Catherine Kerr. Cathy has lost something and McGee agrees. What he learns is that her son’s father walked out on her and Cathy’s had to give her son to her sister while she struggles to make ends meet. Moreover, the poor girl’s still torn over another loss: that of Junior Allen, a man who knew Cathy’s now-dead father from back in World War II. Allen ingratiated himself into Cathy’s life, but all he really seemed to do was look for something. Cathy never knew what, but one day, Allen left town only to return, this time with obvious wealth. He takes up with another woman, Lois Atkinson, likely for her money, too. Then, Allen again leaves.
Private detectives (yeah, I know McGee isn’t one but bear with me) have often been classified as knights errant, men of honor and character who stand against the march of time and culture. My reading of hard-boiled fiction isn’t wide, but man, does McGee fit this description. It doesn’t take much to convince McGee to look into Allen and follow his trail from Florida to New York to Texas and back to Florida. I don’t think there’s a character in this book that isn’t affected by the events as McGee lays them out in first person. One of the more surprising aspects was McGee’s relationship with Lois. When he meets her, she’s almost lost her mind and is in a deep state of terror. Junior Allen thoroughly corrupted her, taking her for all she was worth, and casting her aside like garbage. McGee’s tender and patient actions in this middle part threw me a curveball. It just wasn’t what I expected…and that’s a good thing. It made the listening (excellent narration by Robert Petkoff*) engrossing.
The ending threw me for a loop as well. Not going to detail it here, but if the middle was unexpected, the ending was quite different than I had anticipated.
I really enjoyed this novel. It’s hard-boiled with serious tinges of noir. There is violence in the fight scenes and MacDonald writes them with clear-eyed prose that does nothing to glorify anything. The asides McGee tells us about his views of the world and they are spot on for the time period. This book was published in March 1964, barely half a year after Kennedy was assassinated. Many historians, including myself, see that moment as turning point in history, but author MacDonald clearly had his fingers on the pulse of the country and he already knew America was changing.
*A quick note about the narrator. Robert Petkoff was the second narrator for the Richard Castle novels. I adore those novels and Petkoff really nailed the whimsical vibe of not only “Richard Castle” the author but Nathan Fillion the actor. It took me a little bit to get my head to discard “This is Castle’s voice!” but once I did, Petkoff wholly embodied the sometimes cynical Travis McGee. Petkoff has narrated all 21 McGee novels. This makes me so happy as I’m looking forward to experiencing the cases of Travis McGee with Petkoff as the voice.
Saturday, April 7, 2018
As a huge fan of the TV show “Castle,” I’m fine with lead characters being writers. Ditto for any number of Stephen King books. What makes Ian Ludlow different (albeit slightly) is that he doesn’t suddenly become a stud. Say what you will about Castle, but he became more adept at handling situations the longer the seasons went on, despite his constant man-child behavior. Ludlow doesn’t. Granted, this is his first adventure, so who knows what’s down the road for him.
Years before the opening scene of TRUE FICTION, Ludlow and a few other writers were recruited to dream up scenarios that terrorists might deploy to inflict huge amounts of damage to the US or US assets. Ludlow’s brainstorm was a plane crashing into buildings, not in a well-populated city like Houston or Denver or Los Angeles but Waikiki, Hawaii. The definition of paradise. Ludlow thought nothing of the experiment…until a plane is hijacked and crashes into a hotel in Waikiki.
Immediately, Ludlow knows he’d likely be a target. And when the other members of his secret writing group turn up dead, it is confirmed. Margo, the grad student assigned to drive Ludlow around Seattle on his book signing, quickly gets swept up in the action and the pair must escape the attempts by the secret agency who launched the attack.
Goldberg keeps the action moving along at quite a pace as befitting a thriller. But he manages to inject some humanity into Ludlow, who, more than once, wishes he was Clint Straker, the uber-hero of his own novels. Those moments are rather humorous, especially when Margo keeps reminding him of his inadequacies. And the humor sprinkled throughout the book made me chuckle more than once.
TRUE FICTION is a fun romp of a book that’ll keep you entertained from the first word to end.