End of the Night is MacDonald at his crime thriller best, detailing with chilling certainty the adventures of a foursome bent on a cross-country crime spree with no remorse or conscience. In doing so, he reminds the reader of the Starkweather and Fugate killing spree of 1958, of the great mass of beats and hippies tuning and dropping out, and of a generation bent on self-destruction leading up to the Manson cult.
MacDonald brilliantly begins backwards with the execution date for Stassen, Golden, Hernandez, and Koslov. From there, he rewinds just a tiny bit to the trial, mocking the defense lawyer, but admitting he never had a chance. Then, we learn about their last exploits through the surviving victims. Only then does MacDonald reveal to the reader what it’s all about.
Stassen is the college dropout from a solid family. He hooked up with a crazy movie star and her latest husband, signing on as their chauffeur to Acapulco and then unwittingly becoming the tool she used to humiliate her spouse. Once back in Texas, with no particular place to go, he joins a trio who were killing time in a diner, drinking tequila with them and popping Dexedrine and whatever else they carried. Golden and Kosovo were from the San Francisco beat era. They were tuned out and whatever was left was just for kicks.
Rootless, without connection, without a goal, a plan, or anything other than the absolute freedom to do whatever they wanted on whatever whim, the foursome were at their worst together, egging each other on with no one to hold back their impulses. It is a rough indictment of the excesses of beatnik/ hippie/ juvenile delinquency world. Rather than lecture, MacDonald presents it coldly, clinically, for fair evaluation.