Friday, April 10, 2009

Forgotten Short Stories: "Murder for Money" -- John D. MacDonald

"Murder for Money" originally appeared in one of the Popular pulps in 1952.  The version I read is included in 13 Short Detective Novels, a 1987 Bonanza Book edited by Bill Pronzini and Martin Greenberg.  I'm not writing about it because it's a great story.  I'm writing about it because it shows that even this early in his career, MacDonald was more or less fully formed as a writer.  

The story's plot isn't complicated.  A man has disappeared.  An insurance investigator is looking into the case because the man carried a large policy, and his family thinks perhaps his much younger wife is to blame for the disappearance.  (Here's something MacDonald would probably have avoided later on.  The investigator is named Darrigan, the missing man is Davisson, and one of the suspects is Drynfells.  Too many "D" names there.)  

There are typical MacDonald observations and descriptions, like this one: "Three lean women in bathing suits sat at one tabel, complete with beach bags, tall drinks, and that special porcelainized facial expression of middle forties trying, with monied success, to look like middle thirties."   Or this one:  "He drove with his eyes steady, his face fashioned into a mask of tough unconcern.  Each time, you bled a little.  And each time the hard flutter of excitement ended in this sourness.  Murder for money.  It was seldom anything else.  It was seldom particularly clever.  It was invariably brutal."

The whole thing revolves around a real estate deal, with emphasis on the way things are changing in Florida, a theme that MacDonald pursued right up until the end of his career.  If you're looking for good, tight writing and plotting in a short story, you can do a lot worse than MacDonald.  There are several collections you can find easily enough, including The Good Old Stuff and More Good Old Stuff.  Check 'em out.

9 comments:

  1. Those are great collections. I wish he hadn't updated the stories, though. Nothing wrong with letting pulp be pulp.

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  2. I agree. The updating was a mistake. The story I talked about today is updated, too. All I know for sure is that dates have been changed. I hope nothing else was messed with.

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  3. I've only read MacDonald's novels before - but now I am intrigued to track down his shorter work.

    Should I try and find the original versions of the stories - or do you recommend starting with the "updated" versions?

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  4. The updated ones are easier to find in those collections I mentioned. They're not ruined by the updating. You might not even be bothered by it if you didn't know about it.

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  5. By the way, MacDonald wrote some quite good SF stories, too.

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  6. Where's the love for the End Of The Tiger collection, which has been waiting to be read for awhile along with two other short story collections.

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  7. Read all his novels, waited in anticipation of the next color, but I don't think any of the stories. Thanks for bringing them to my attention.

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  8. Richard Heft2:24 PM

    One of MacDonald's short stories has a spectacular gimmick (SPOILER ALERT), in which the only clue to a bank robbery is an abandoned car with "no clues." A teenage kid deduces that the push-buttons on the radio that automatically move the dial to pre-set stations will show the last city in which the car has been driven (presumably the robbers' home base), as the full group of pre-sets will be unique from city to city.

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  9. As I recall (dimly, from 40 years ago or so) END OF THE TIGER is stories from the slicks. I liked 'em okay, but they weren't my favorites.

    Love that car radio gimmick. I've read that story.

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