The postwar building boom along the Gulf Coast of Florida created a ticky-tacky fly-by-night environment and brought to the area both strivers and slackers. It was a place where, in MacDonald’s rendering, great moral contests could unfold amid the marshy keys that man was wresting from the sea. Andrew Hale McClintock, a Syracuse University graduate who has come south to find his fortune, represents the striving class. He works for a hard-as-nails contractor, writing up bids and chasing down construction matériel. After the contractor’s wife embroils McClintock in her adultery-driven antics, he struggles to preserve his autonomy as well as his sanity. Then, after the contractor becomes a victim of murder, he fights to prove that he’s innocent of the crime. As MacDonald’s alter-ego, meanwhile, he carries the burden of narrating this taut adventure yarn, and he does so with the author’s patented blend with smart-aleck wit and florid lyricism. All in all, he comes across as a worthy protagonist—as a man equal to the villain of the piece, a blandly handsome slacker-psychopath named Roy. There are surprises in store for McClintock, and there is some sharp detective work for him to do, but there isn’t much mystery as to the locus of good and evil in the brave, balmy new world that he inhabits. An amusing sidelight to an otherwise naturalistic tale is the way that villain and hero alike resort to using rather outlandish weapons to achieve their violent ends: an underwater fishing gun in one case, a rod-and-reel in the other. (“There is never any doubt when you set a hook,” McClintock notes after landing a “big one” that definitely won’t get away.)
JOHN D. MACDONALD. Dead Low Tide (1953).