by Michael Shea on Aug.15, 2013
I haven’t read all of John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee novels. But of those I’ve enjoyed the one that moved me most was BRIGHT ORANGE FOR THE SHROUD. So slender a book, but each page a well-honed blade.
Boone Waxwell reads like an up-river Mephistopheles. That’s just one of the things that’s so wonderful about MacDonald– he knows how to make monsters. (I use the present tense because like all great writers, he is always with us and still very much alive for me.) Though more prolific than Raymond Chandler he had the same gift of fashioning living, breathing, human gargoyles. And he knew how to give those gargoyles play; he let them run out some line and tear up the scenery; he savored extravagant violence, understanding that monstrosity is a baroque form, requiring resonant and detailed confrontation with evil–sometimes charismatic evil.
Waxwell’s rape kills both its victim and her worthless husband, who dies by her hand (so right that gesture).
But oh, the monsters death when it comes! How more than fitting! How tailored (though large in the bias!) to his crime! It’s among the most fulfilling climaxes in popular fiction.