|Courtesy of Vintage Paperbacks|
The story here is about an agent who is pulled from his Venezuela post to go back to his own small Florida town to try and convince an old scientist to get out of his funk and get back in the game working on the weapons research that he abandoned for a beautiful young woman who was recently murdered. The agent has a rich and troubled past with this small town and the murdered woman as well, so his espionage assignment also includes his own personal challenges.
Macdonald is excellent at creating corrupt small Florida towns and that was one of the things in the blurb that attracted me to this book. I wasn't disappointed. The psychotic sheriff was particularly well (and disturbingly) portrayed. He rules the town with expert and scientifically sexual beatings with his billy club, breaking the spirit of anyone who might be a troublemaker. He gives the agent a solid working over his first day in town and that becomes motivation for the reader and the agent to get their own back.
Unfortunately, it never really builds up into a rich climax. Instead of the whole town being corrupted, the sheriff is really the sole bad guy. There is also not a lot of mystery around the murder of the woman, though it is drawn out for quite a while. The atmosphere and the characters are quite good, but I suspect it's the mix of the espionage side with the personal history side that didn't quite gel. It might have been better had it been one story or the other (which Macdonald later did do). So all in all not terrible, but not one of his best.