Monday, June 17, 2013

The Empty Copper Sea (John D. MacDonald, 1979)

In all due respect to Mr MacDonald, this is hardly his best work. To be perfectly honest and blunt - it's pretty fucking bad.

McGee and his sidekick Meyer are working on restoring (in their words it is "salvaging") reputation of their friend sailor Van Harder who has been framed by some sneaky asshole millionaire during the staging of his death. On their arrival to a small coast town in Florida they soon run into a usual bunch of protagonists: a wife (widow?), a beautiful Scandinavian missing secretary (mistress?), local policeman, night club piano player, loser addicted to a crystal meth, a bit mental millionaire's assistant and his beautiful sister etc etc. All entangled into dark and sinister mystery which will be revealed within a closed family circle. Not really a whodunnit type of revelation, more like moral and melodramatic type of crap.

Not too original but then again it doesn't really need to be. Lots of great books follow this formulaic template and lots of them manage to pull off good story and satisfying reading. Not this one, there are more things misfiring here than actually functioning.

There's no suspense built up, almost no corpses right until the end. Which is understandable since our two amateurish detectives don't really stir things up when they arrive. They just wonder around and keep interviewing locals without much of any solid progress. McGee does manage to score with a piano player and they all get drunk on an occasion and there's this pathetic meth addict that gets killed in a car accident but none of these episodes have any real impact on the main story.

Pretty boring stuff but still bearable. Looks like MacDonald realized that sad fact himself, so at the beginning of the 10th chapter everything changes. Unfortunately for the worse - instead of concentrating on the plot twists and shifting up the pace/suspense gear, our hero falls in love!?!? So fast forward few chapters and his case is still stuck but his chosen one is already "one of the truly great, all-time, record-breaking, incomparable girls" and they spend quality time dreaming on the sand dunes, swimming, lighting fire, talking, kissing...

I also had a bit of a problem with the narration. Language is good and fluent and it's well written and all but everything just takes so fucking loooong. There are pages and even chapters without hardly any decent action or dialogs. Way too many tedious descriptions and unnecessary sub plots, especially those related to (doctor of economy!) Meyer are hard to digest. Not of course to mention and bitch again about the "romantic" crap.

Not sure how to feel about this one. I was looking forward to read McGee book again and maybe this is a reason why I felt so disappointed and even cheated. Needed to remind myself that this was 17th of the series and that MacDonald was more than sixty years old when he wrote it. So let's not hold it too much against him. Maybe he simply got a bit bored with his hero and/or allowed his senile romantic fantasies about beautiful and perfect beach girls to creep into the story way more than they should.

2/5

Facts:

Hero:
Travis McGee

"You're not private detective, then?"
"Me? No. Those people have to have licences and be bonded and carry insurance and report to the law people whenever they go. They charge fees and have office phones and all that. I just do favors for friends. Sort of salvage work."

Location:
Timber Bay, Florida

Body count
4, at some point even 5 but McGee and Meyer successfully manage to revive an old man back from the dead after a car accident.

Dames:
Julia Lawless (wife), Kristen Peterson (mistress), Billy Jean Bailey (piano lady) and of course beautiful and perfect Gretel Howard.

Blackouts
One. And pretty pathetic one since McGee passes out while drinking.

Title: 
It does appear word by word in the book but, like everything else, it takes a few paragraphs to actually describe its meaning. In short - McGeee is so saddened by his beloved's death that it makes him see the sea in a copper color. There also seems to be some biblical explanation of this but I'll leave it to Wikipedia to explain it.

Cover:
One of those incredibly dull ones where names of the author and main protagonist are printed using larger font than title itself. I can see no link between the photograph and story so my guess would be that publisher was willing to spend as little as possible $$$ on the artwork and just bought the rights for some random photo. At least they were decent enough to state an author. He is Langdon Clay and this is his website where I was actually able to find this photograph - it's the first one of the gallery titled "Cars, New York City area, 1974 - 1975". You see, it truly has nothing to do with Florida or this book.

Cool lines
None really. Unless you are into romantic novels...

2 comments:

  1. Here’s a quote about John D. Macdonald that I often see bouncing around the web (I hesitate to quote from Wikipeida, which we all know is generally stuff we can wipe our asses with, but this seems legit). “Macdonald is by any standards a better writer than Saul Bellow, only Macdonald writes thrillers and Bellow is a human heart chap, so guess who wears the top grade laurels?” That’s from Kingsley Amis.
    http://postmoderndeconstructionmadhouse.blogspot.com/2015/01/john-d-macdonald-look-at-some-aspects.html#.VNHn89L

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  2. Thanks for the link Elizabeth. Interesting reading, although maybe a bit too academic for my taste :) But did put A Deadly Shade of Gold on my to-do list.

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