Hello again from Point Blank! Join us as we head on down to Florida to introduce “A Flash of Green” and John D MacDonald.
We have a new Goodreads discussion group created by one of our listeners, Geoff. Thanks, Geoff. It’s a great place to discuss all of the books we talk about and contribute to the discussion in future episodes.
Check out the Goodreads Group: www.goodreads.com/group/show/747867-point-blank
Well…we sure didn’t love it, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have something to say. We dig deep to find out what does and does not work in this novel.
Justin brings us another really stupid mystery, where we are forced to ask what lurks in the shadows around Walden Pond.
Of course there’s also reviews!!
Point Blank Review of John D. MacDonald’s A Flash of Green:
Our main topic for discussion is John D. MacDonald’s A Flash of Green, and, boy, did we muck this one up.
Published in 1962, A Flash of Green precedes MacDonald’s best known creation — the character of Travis McGee, who doesn’t arrive on the scene until 1964’s The Deep Blue Good-bye.
Per Amazon, MacDonald is credited with being one of the earliest to write on the effect of real estate booms on the environment, and his novel A Flash Of Green (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1962) is a good example of this.
I love that MacDonald had the cojones and the awareness to see the effect of development on fragile ecosystems. I wish that he made a more exciting book on the topic.
OK — here’s what happens.
Jimmy Wing is a journalist in Palm City a sleepy town on Florida’s Gulf Coast.
Elmo Bliss is the rich, powerful local real estate tycoon with political ambitions. He’s an asshole, but he’s also complex and interesting
Kat Hubble is the local gal with a heart of gold. She is a widow raising two kids and an activist with Save Our Bay.
Kat doesn’t want to see a new development get built in Grassy Bay (which is stand in for Sarasota Bay).
Boss Hog pays off Jimmy Wing to play the pro-development side on the local paper. This goes against Jimmy’s inclinations, but his wife is in a mental asylum and he’s depressed and so he tosses his moral scruples — if he had any to begin with — into the salt breeze.
He has a crush on Kat Hubble but she doesn’t like him, and her husband, who was his friend, just died. Pretty much the rest of the story is the battle between Elmo Bliss’s band of greedy locals and the white middleclass environmentalists of Save Our Bay.
Jimmy is super lame all the way though before becoming a bad ass at the very end of the story. Most of the story consists of long conversations.
Really: This book takes the danger and excitement of a confrontation of David vs. Goliath and replaces it with the most boring aspects of activism — long tedious meetings, the long game of gaining control of public perception by writing newspaper articles, and long conversations between characters that are not essential to the plot and seem mostly to fill up space and pass the time.
I mean, so many long conversations.
I get that MacDonald is a good writer of Dialogue, but Dialogue ceases to impress when it kills the momentum of a story. And this novel’s momentum — little there there ever is — is constantly stalled by conversations, by indecision, by the introduction of new and unnecessary characters.
I read it because I had to, but I swear to God I would have kicked this book to the curb at page 200 if I had the option.
And at 454 pages in length, this is a long book for nothing to really happen until page 350. And even then, things don’t really happen. And the main character doesn’t really do a good deed until the very end. And before he does that he essentially rapes Kat, the one relatable character.
Where were the editors?
If I were reading this as a mainstream fiction novel, I’d give it a 3 out of 5. But I was reading it as a crime fiction novel and for this reason I give this book 2.5 out of 5, I’m sorry to our listeners for making you sludge through this Everglades-sized slough of molasses.
5 Round Burst:
“Silencer” Thorn Mystery #11 by James W Hall – Modeled loosely off John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee, Thorn is a solitary Florida man, living a quiet life in the Keys like a misanthropic Jimmy Buffett. He makes flies to catch the local bonefish and occasionally joins his ex-cop buddy Sugarman to engage in crime solving shenanigans in south Florida.
In this eleventh novel, Thorn has mellowed out. His girlfriend has even convinced him to throw a party, which he does. Well into the night, a couple tough guys sneak into the house and kidnap Thorn. But why? The story connects the dots between Thorn, an old Florida Ranch that Thorn was planning to purchase and preserve, and a secret fortune buried in the ranch’s sandy soil.
This book was what I expected A Flash of Green to be. I mean, this is a paint by numbers commercial crime novel, but James W Hall is a strong writer and the themes of greed and environmental preservation give the book topical resonance. Thorn doesn’t get to do much in this book, and when he does he’s a bit of a Mary Sue. Still, I like and recommend the Thorn series. I just wouldn’t start with book 11. Call this a hit.
“October Heat” by Gordon Demarco
“Crimes of Southern Indiana” and “Donnybrook” by Frank Bill
“Gone Bamboo” and “The Bobby Gold Stories” by Anthony Bourdain
We’ll explore what’s lurking in the shadows of the magic kingdom as we discuss Florida Crime Fiction and all that it entails.
Featured Review: This episode we dig in with Joe Clifford’s hardboiled drug fueled “novel,” Junkie Love.
Junkie Love was originally published by Battered Suitcase in 2013, and a new edition was recently released.
This book is billed as a hardboiled novel, but it’s really an autobiography. As Tim O’Brien wrote, “That’s what fiction is for. It’s for getting at the truth when the truth isn’t sufficient for the truth.”
It is set in San Francisco in the late 1990s and early aughts, and like the SF in Hammett’s novels, Junkie Love captures a time and a place that no longer exists.
And while the city is central to the story, this is a story about a character — let’s call him Joe — who comes West from CT to the city on the bay with rock and roll fantasies, and romantic notions of meth and heroin use.
This is a story about a character who falls hard for speed and narcotics and nearly dies—more than once—trying to keep it together—to make it to the other side.
And this is also a story about redemption. Most people do not escape the web of addiction. This character did. But it was not easy and we see the struggles in all their gritty detail as the character — let’s call him Joe — cheats and steals and lies and fucks his way from one high to the next, conning banks out of dough, hawking his friend’s guitars, bilking his mother, and when things are at their most dire—injecting mice shit into his blood stream in the hope that it is black tar heroin. People don’t usually survive these circumstances. And people who used IVs in SF in the late 1990s the way our narrator did usually do not escape without HIV.
But like I said this is a story of redemption. Nothing is glorified. We see Joe’s illusions get swept away one by one until — emaciated, scabby, and alone — he tries to suicide via heroin injection. But it doesn’t work. And because it doesn’t work, we have this book — a story about love and desire, dreams and redemption, about a suburban American kid with romantic delusions taking big risks and nearly dying because of them.
The narrator doesn’t get fixed without difficulty. Over the course of his addiction, he checks into rehab facilities 17 times before scraping the barrel and committing for the long haul.
This is a novel in fragments. The chronology is broken up, in part because drugs eat at the memory like moths eat cloth, but also, I think the reasoning was to maintain a propulsive narrative.
The book starts with a DEA raid on a house in SF called Hepatitis Heights. This sets the story off and shows what is at stake. But the main character’s story starts earlier, with his arrival to SF a decade early. He had a job, played in a band, got into speed. Did more speed. Got with a girl who did speed. Got married. And then he meet a guy who sold heroin.
Most of the novel is set in SF, but there is also a roadtrip, lots of sex, and several stints in CT, including the final act when he hits rock bottom.
I think this is a great memoir — I mean, novel — one that pulls no punches. Clifford does well not to glamorize the life he escaped. He is careful not to turn this into a romance or nostalgia trip, even if there are moments when I’m like — this life seems like fun.
Overall — for a first book — he had published a collection of short stories — this is a very impressive read and a serious contribution to the canon of addition-themed memoirs / novels. And though this is not noir (the main character is redeemed) the writing is seriously hardboiled and some of the scenes are gritty as hell.
John D. MacDonald