The Last One Left

In the Last One Left, a 1966 novel by John MacDonald, one of the last of the standalone novels coming out after he began the Travis McGee series and with very few stand-alones after that. Like the Travis McGee series, this is a crime thriller set partly in Florida. But, here, there is no McGee-like does not knight in shining armor. Rather, what you get is a full-length novel treatment of several classic crime fiction motifs, beginning with the femme fatale, Chrissy, and the suitcase full of money. While some might argue that this novel was a bit bloated and could have lost a little bit on the cutting room floor, there is also the argument that MacDonald got a chance to more broadly set forth his themes. There is, of course, also the question of who the last one left refers to. Is it the last survivor of the ill-fated boat trip? Is it the last survivor of the ill-fated scheme to grab the suitcase of money?

One of those themes is that the roots of the missing suitcase filled with money and all the greed and murder it spawned is in a crooked land deal, a familiar theme for MacDonald who saw many of the wealthy land barons of his time as conniving bastards who would not hesitate to cut corners or bribe board members in order to get a deal done.

Another one of those themes is the femme fatale, Crissy Harkinson, who does not just appear out of thin air, but is given an extensive backstory, including her mercenary relationship with the Senator, her ideas about how she will survive now with only the house and the boat left to her and no source of income as her looks are waning with her approach to the forties. Once you see her backstory through her eyes and her thoughts, you can see how she might be tempted to make a bargain with the devil for a suitcase full of money and a lifetime full of tarnished dreams.

Captain Garry Staniker is an amazing character who could have been fleshed out even more. He is one of those colorful marina characters who never seem to be that successful and never seem to be able to move out of the marina. Here, he manages to blow up a sophisticated cruiser in the open sea and survive, barely. His survival is nothing short of amazing.

But then there may be one other survivor hinted at and her rescuer is the oddest character, one half out of his mind permanently who has created his own little island and his own little world. Unfortunately, the Sergeant is half in and half out of our world.

There are two characters who play a part in unraveling the mystery as to what happened, Raul Kelly, a Cuban exile, now a news reporter, and a shrewd Texas lawyer, Sam Boylston. Both of them are quite interesting, but neither fully provides a focal point for the entire novel the way Travis McGee does in that series.

Ultimately, it is a classic noir crime thriller with the lead criminals (as they would become) all poised to be at each other’s throats as their final reckoning comes.

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