On the Make

On the Make by John D. MacDonald | イラスト, ミステリ

Before MacDonald embarked on the Busted Flush with his Travis McGee, he published nearly forty standalone novels, among them really top-notch crime fiction. Originally published as “A Bullet for Cinderella,” “On the Make” has all the elements of a classic Fifties pulp including a buried treasure, a bevy of treasure hunters, a femme fatale or two, and a handful of corpses.

A decade before the rest of America discovered the phrase “tune in, drop out” and a decade before Travis McGee dropped out of the rat race and made his life on a houseboat, occasionally taking on a “salvage job,” McDonald made his main character Tal, a rootless, drifting no-good guy who has his eyes on digging up the Mason jars full of stolen money. Tal was a Korean War veteran, who should have come home to his loyal fiancée, his job, his family, gotten a VA loan, and climbed the corporate ladder. But, after months in a prisoner of war camp and months recovering in a stateside hospital, Tal feels empty, restless, and nothing has much substance for him. So, he decides to chuck it all, including dear sweet Charlotte, and follows up on his dying fellow POW’s deathbed confession. Timmy had fallen for his brother’s hot-to-trot wife and spent years cooking the books at his brother’s business, burying the proceeds in Mason jars in a secret location.

Tal rolls into town, pretending to be looking up Timmy’s best bud, all the while looking for clues as to where the treasure is based on bare, sparse clues. But, someone else has got there first and already dug up the town and no one really believes Tal’s BS story. What’s more the foxy wife of the brother has left town with the first salesman she set eyes on. She’s gone. The money’s missing. And the brother, George, is all hollowed out. He’s taken his losses hard.

MacDonald does a great job with this pulp classic, slowly ratcheting up the tension till it explodes in the end. Even with an anti-hero principal character who is up to no good, MacDonald has us all rooting for Tal, hoping that deep down, he is more than just the jaded, rootless, amoral fortune hunter he believes himself to be.

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