How'd you like to have gotten this blurb on your first novel? "The best first mystery novel I've read in the thirty years since The Big Sleep" -- Ross Macdonald. Wow. However, I have to say that Afternoon of a Loser, while a dandy book, doesn't quite live up to that commentary.
It's the story of a couple of cousins, Sam and Mark Donaldson. Mark has just been released from prison after serving 9 years for a murder he says he didn't commit. In the meantime, Sam has married Mark's ex-wife, the woman for whom lots of people believe Mark took the fall. Maybe even Sam believes that, because if Mark's innocent, who's guilty?
The setting is central Florida, not far from the Sebring race track, where Tom and Mack both once drove. There are some fine racing scenes and plenty of other well-done local color. Lots of tension and suspense, too. In fact, this book is so good that reading it is almost like finding a John D. MacDonald novel you've never read before. (MacDonald gave Pace a rave blurb for a later book.)
I suspect that Afternoon of a Loser is a truly forgotten book and that very few people other than me remember reading it forty years ago in its first edition. It's well worth picking up if you see it lying around in some dusty bookstore.