John D. MacDonald Referred to in the 1950s as “the John O’Hara of the crime-suspense story” (The New York Times), John D. MacDonald brought unusual heart, soul and intelligence to his thrillers, of which he wrote dozens, including The Executioners (made into two Hollywood blockbusters as Cape Fear), before launching the world-famous series of mysteries featuring his quintessential hero, Travis McGee.
Let pulp fiction’s greatest entertainer transport you to another era with a tale of intrigue, sex and murder in the heyday of American business. Complete with a new forward by Matthew Louis and a bonus essay studying the business environment depicted in A Key to the Suite.
Don’t forget to check out Gutter Books’ edition of ON THE MAKE by John D. MacDonald (ISBN 9780-9826887-2-4 ). Complete with a new biography of the author and an essay on the 1950s paperback revolution. Also available from Gutter Books: DODGING BULLETS by Joe McKinney (ISBN 9780-9826887-1-7) THE BADDEST OF THE BAD edited by Matthew Louis (ISBN 978-0-9826887-0-0) THE WRONG MAN by William Ingsley (ISBN 9780-9826887-3-1) THE FLYING SAUCERS ARE REAL by Donald Keyhoe (ISBN 978-0-9826887-4-8) ATOMIC NOIR edited by Lou Boxer and Duane Swierczynski (ISBN 978-0-9826887-6-2)
JOHN D. MACDONALD
A KEY TO THE
SUITE WITH A NEW FORWARD AND BONUS ESSAY
A Key to the Suite This edition and all its contents copyright © 2012 by Gutter Books LLC. This is a work of fiction in which all names, characters, places and events are imaginary. Where names of actual celebrities, organizations and corporate entities are used, they’re used for fiction purposes and don’t constitute actual assertions of fact. No resemblance to anyone or anything real is intended, nor should it be inferred. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form by any means without the written consent of the publisher, with the exception of brief excerpts for the purpose of review or promotion. ISBN 978-0-9826887-7-9 Visit www.gutterbooks.com for other titles and submission guidelines. Printed in the USA
CONTENTS Forward...................................................viii A key to the Suite.....................................15 Essay: The Economics of A Key to the Suite.........................................................193
The Thinking Man’s Throwaway Fiction
Open a random John D. MacDonald thriller and chances are you’ll find a hero with an unlikely name such as Tal Howard or Lane Sanson—a name, it seems, that is a sound-jumble lifted from the author’s subconscious, put on paper in the heat of the moment and then never reconsidered. The players in his dramas, likewise, can seem as if they are mere types, stock characters taken down from the shelf, dusted off and stuck in the story as needed. A MacDonald plot, after a few novels, can give you a déjà vu sensation as well. Typically the tension is created by a love/hate triangle consisting of the Humble Hero, the Superhuman Villain, and the Sex Goddess. Usually, as added motivation for the protagonist, there is a not-quite-central figure who is a matronly Good Girl, ready to live happily ever after with him if he can just get the present crisis sorted out. The Humble Hero may be an out-and-out stud like MacDonald’s world-famous series character, Travis McGee (who, speaking of strange names, was originally called “Dallas McGee,” but was renamed when John F. Kennedy caught a bullet [or two or three bullets] in Dallas just before the series’ premier), or he may be a lesser being, such as the family men who play the leads in several of his standalones (including, in point of fact, the family man who stars in A Key to the Suite). vii
A KEY TO THE SUITE
A female lead who oozes sex is all but inescapable in a MacDonald novel, and from the moment we meet her we can be sure that it is only a matter of time until our Humble Hero has her bedded down—or, at any rate, manages to couple with her in whatever setting is convenient (off the top of my head I can think of a female lead being taken in a barn [Cancel All Our Vows], in a cave [On The Make], and in a station wagon [On The Run]). Also inescapable is the violent climax, in which the Superhuman Villain dies, usually in spectacular fashion. And to MacDonald’s credit, the villain dies in most instances because the hero has a stroke of desperate luck rather than a moment of far-fetched agility or bravery. If the villain always gets snuffed out, MacDonald’s Sex Goddesses tend to have a high mortality rate also, and their demise tends to come a short while after the hero has had his way with them. This confirms, for the reader, the hero’s virility while allowing something far less intriguing, but more admirable, to develop between the hero and the Good Girl. If one was engaging in armchair psychology, one might have an interesting time analyzing MacDonald’s recurring daydream of ravaging sluts and then watching them die, so he is free to seek security in the arms of the pure-hearted Good Girl. But, luckily, I’m not into armchair psychology. The final pages of a MacDonald thriller are very likely to feature something more akin to a hangover than an upbeat, gratifying wrap-up. Again, to MacDonald’s credit, he wasn’t comfortable with anything coming off too corny. His characters are lucky to get out alive, and they usually know it. There are definitely instances when the Humble Hero and the Good Girl
ride off into the sunset with no lingering trauma, but these are, in my experience with MacDonald novels, rare exceptions. Considering this predictable pattern, the uninitiated reader may ask: What is the appeal? All of this sounds mildly insulting to a learned individual’s intelligence, doesn’t it? It may, if we only consider these superficial characteristics. MacDonald was producing novels at a dizzying rate and, we can assume, the characters and plot devices that he thought of in the moment, possibly not even breaking pace as his fingers were clicking away on his typewriter keys, might have been revised if there was time. But there was another novel waiting to be written, even as MacDonald was killing off his latest villain, and first drafts doubtless became final drafts a good deal of the time. And, once you warm up to them, these less refined aspects of MacDonald’s stories become, in an odd way, a strength. The author had enough undiluted talent to mould what in other hands might have been clumsy and transparent elements into vital plot points and fascinating nuances. Most writers have to revisit and rewrite seemingly without end, but considering how prolific MacDonald was, he didn’t allow himself time to agonize over flaws in his original conceptions. He thought on his feet, as it were, and turned out, in a few months or even weeks, novels as lean and mean—and insightful—as works other authors might require years of careful revision to produce. And it’s that last element—insightfulness—that finally makes the difference. We can accept the peculiar name of the all-American hero, as well as the comic book proportions of the villain and the raw sexuality of the female lead, without feeling as if we’re losing IQ points as we read. Our suspension of