23 July, 2008

John D. MacDonald

John Dann MacDonald writing as John D. MacDonald, was an American writer of crime and suspense novels, many of them set in his adopted home of Florida, including the popular and critically-acclaimed Travis McGee series. MacDonald was named a grand master of the Mystery Writers of America in 1972 and won the American Book Award in 1980. Stephen King praised him in his book "On Writing" as "the great entertainer of our age, and a mesmerizing storyteller."

Born in Sharon, Pennsylvania, MacDonald enrolled at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania but dropped out during his sophomore year to work menial jobs in New York City. While attending the School of Management at Syracuse University, he met Dorothy Prentiss. They married in 1937, and he graduated from Syracuse the following year. In 1939, he received an MBA from Harvard University. MacDonald was later able to make good use of his education in business and economics by incorporating elaborate business swindles into the plots of a number of his novels.

In 1940 MacDonald accepted a direct commission in the army Ordnance Corp, but later served in the OSS in the Far East during World War II. While still in the military, his literary career began accidentally when he wrote a short story in 1945 and mailed it home for the amusement of his wife. She submitted it to the magazine Story without his knowledge, and it was accepted. In the first four months after his discharge, he completely concentrated on writing short stories, generating some 800,000 words and losing 20 pounds while typing during 14-hour daily sessions seven days a week. It netted him only hundreds of rejection slips, but in the fifth month, a $40 sale to the pulp magazine Dime Detective set his career in motion, and he continued to sell to the detective, mystery, adventure, sports, western and science fiction pulps. As the boom in paperback novels expanded, he successfully made the jump to longer fiction with his first novel, The Brass Cupcake, published in 1950 by Fawcett Publications' Gold Medal Books. His science fiction included the story "Cosmetics" in Astounding (1948) and the novels Wine of the Dreamers (1951) and Ballroom of the Skies (1952).

Between 1953 and 1964, MacDonald specialized in crime thrillers, many of which are now considered masterpieces of the hardboiled genre. Most of these novels were published as paperback originals, although some were later republished in hardbound editions. Many, such as Dead Low Tide (1953), were set in his adopted home of Florida, and were effective in suggesting a sinister aura lurking beneath the glittery surface of that state. Novels such as The Executioners (1957) and One Monday We Killed them All (1962) penetrated the minds of psychopathic killers. As Macdonald honed his craft, he developed his narrative "voice," one of the most distinctive in the suspense fiction field.

MacDonald's protagonists were often intelligent and introspective men, sometimes with a hard cynical streak. Travis McGee, the "salvage consultant" and "knight in rusting armor," was all of that. He first appeared in the 1964 novel The Deep Blue Good-by and was last seen in The Lonely Silver Rain in 1985. All titles in the 21-volume series include a color, and the novels usually feature an ever-changing array of female companions, plus an appearance by a sidekick known only as "Meyer," [G. Ludwig Meyer, Ph.D.] a retired economist. As Sherlock Holmes had his well-known address on Baker Street, McGee had his trademark lodgings on his 52-foot houseboat Busted Flush, named for the poker hand that started the run of luck in which he won her. She's docked at Slip F-18, Bahia Mar marina, Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

MacDonald died on December 28, 1986, at the age of 70.