Saturday, July 5, 2014

A Bullet for Cinderella (John D. MacDonald, 1955)

The disc jockey stopped and whistled softly. "How about that, folks? They give me this stuff to read and sometimes I read it and don't even listen. But that's a hot one. That one can grab you. Bodies under concrete. Cars in lakes. Suicides that aren't suicides. A red-headed gal and an ex-Marine. Man, that's a crazy mixed-up deal they've got down there in Hillston."

I'm not the biggest fan of urban noir. To be honest, I cannot even remember anything of that genre - not written by masters like Cain, Thompson and Woolrich - that I haven't read recently. But I do have one memorable now, it's MacDonald's Cinderella.

It starts phenomenally and continues steadily with building up the suspense and mystery by gradually adding characters and events from the past. Everything works, from the tight and smartly evolving plot to superior characterisation. Our guy is not a typical anti-hero driven by greed. He's just another messed up kid trying to get his shit together after spending some rather unpleasant time in a Korean war prisoners' camp. Written beautifully, using pretty simple yet somehow poetic language (see 'Unconscious' section).

Excellent stuff, but just when it was supposed to switch into the final gear, I was a bit disappointed. When our hero unravels the mystery, I was sure there was another twist coming (like Toni and Fitz scheming some shit together), but it turns out that Tal's conclusions were, in fact, correct, so the last third of the novel turns into a more or less standard thriller.



Tal Howard, ex-soldier returning from the Korean war and trying to find himself again.

Hillston - "It's more town than city. There isn't much of a transient population. Everybody seems to know everybody. It's a pretty good place." Probably fictitious since I cannot find it on Google maps.

Body count: 6

Our titular heroine Antoinette Rasi aka Toni Raselle aka Cindy aka Cinderella - Feral look. Gypsy look. A mature woman so alive she made the others in the room look two dimensional. [Fatale]

Ruth is Toni's opposite -  "This was a for-keeps girl... This was a girl you could hurt, a girl who would demand and deserve utter loyalty." So, obviously, she's a pretty dull and single-dimensional character. I'd guess MacDonald used her to exemplify Tal's divided and messed up psyche. Or something.

There's another one from the past, but we don't get a chance to know her better. Which is unfortunate because Eloise apparently used to be a "lush, petulant, amoral and discontented wife".

He gets ambushed and knocked off: "Pain blossomed red behind my eyes, a skyrocket roaring was in my ears and I felt myself fall into darkness. A few pages later he faints again when being interrogated.
Cool sounding but not very accurate. Also a pretty big fucking spoiler.
Cover one because it doesn't depict a specific scene from the book. Instead, it portraits an imaginary one from the past with young Toni sitting in front of the miserable river shack where she grew up. Cute and already sexy in an innocent way, but already hinting at the "feral, gipsy" look. Although not taking place in "present", it makes a lot of sense because it explains why Toni became a "fancy whore" later (see the 'cool lines' section below). 

The Sniper mark over it spoils everything. It's just ridiculous. Stuff like this belongs to spy thrillers... But I need to give credit to the publisher for deciding to keep the original cover art (made by George Gross) and not using some generic one.

When searching for the cover picture to post here, I came across this amazing blog that posts exclusively covers of MacDonald books. Great idea, amazing content and really cool and interesting comments. Highly recommended! And I just couldn't resist borrowing one for Cinderella - it's one of the coolest I've ever seen, and it really does capture the mood (and actual scene) of the book.

Cool lines:  
"Maybe you admitted too fast that it was money, Tal. I am noted for my fondness for money. It pleases me. I like the feel of it and the smell of it and the look of it. I'm nuts about it. I like all I can get, maybe because I spent so much time without any of it. A psychiatrist friend told me it was my basic drive. I can't ever have too much." [Fatale]

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