Book - The Drowner
Mention John D MacDonald to even the most widely read of mystery mavens and the likely responses will be twofold .Either they will cite "Cape Fear " -his novel "The Executioners " having formed the basis for the two movies of that name ,or else they will say "Travis McGee" the hero of the long established and popular series he began in the mid sixties .
MacDonald was however almost unique among crime writers in having enjoyed a long run of popularity before trying his hand at a regular series character and The Drowner is a stand alone novel from 1963 -long before McGee ,although it shares one characteristic with the series in being set in Florida .Like many other novels by this author-and this again helps set him apart from the majority of pulpsters who focussed mainly on the blue collar and criminous classes -it is set in middle class and monied Florida society .
Events are set in motion by the death of Lucille Hansen who drowns in a lake .The cause of death is a mystery .Some claim it was accidental ,although Lucille was a strong swimmer ,while still others believe it was a suicide as she was on the verge of matrimonial breakup and was having an affair with Sam a local speculator .Her sister , Barbara believes it was murder and engages the sevices of a detective agency to uncover the truth .Assigned to the case is Pual Stanier who -posing as an insurance investigator -digs into the case .He finds a society of shallow and voracious people and not a little corruption with Sam in particular having used Lucille to hide a cache of money he was anxious to conceal from the IRS and his own somwhat shady tax lawyer .The money is missing -which points to murder
We learn that it is indeed murder ,and also the identity of the killer ,we around 30% of the novel still to go and this last section becomes focussed on how the culprit is brought to justice and the person's motives
This is well written and nicely crafted and builds to an exciting climax in which more bodies pile up
The author does not quite sustain interest once the killer is revealed but this is still a good period pulp novel and displays the usual exemplary professionalism of its author but with signs of the tendency towards pontification that marred the McGee novels as the series developed .
Solid reading for genre lovers with some good minor characters adding flavour -eg the corrupt attorney Gus and the shrewd doctor Nile