Sunday, March 04, 2012

11. All These Condemned by John D. MacDonald

My copy of this is the same depicted here, except with a 35¢ price tage and in even worse condition.  It's almost on its last legs, with the pages separating from the spine, though not yet falling out.

It's an early John D. MacDonald and though it hinges around a murder mystery, it is much more a study of the soullless, broken bourgeoisie of the mid-fifties and probably thus fell into the literary genre rather than the mystery.  The copy on the back and inside front cover suggests that it was marketed that way.

The story is about 8 people who go to a weekend at the beautiful country lodge of the rich and manipulative cosmetics executive, Wilma Ferris, who in some way owns them all.  She drowns during some skinny-dipping on Saturday night and the ostensible hook of the book is for the reader to find out whodunnit.  It's structured in a neat way, with each chapter being the viewpoint of one of the 8 people, either from a "before" or "after" the murder.  We get to see how each of them think, how they think of the others and what their relationship was with the victim.

It's good, engaging stuff.  All of them are in some ways broken or on the verge of being broken.  In many cases, they are in this state because of Wilma Ferris.  MacDonald, though, doesn't seem to really blame Ferris.  From his perspective, they are all examples of the modern condition, people so far removed from the honest basics of hard work and treating people right, that they have no moral compass in the first place and it is easy for a cruel sociopath like Wilma Ferris to push them in the wrong direction.

I have only watched a few episdes of Mad Men, but upon finishing this book, I kind of felt the whole series is kind of superfluous.  They were trying to critique the flaws of that era in multiple episodes, when John D. MacDonald did it in a single book, with a lot more punch.  The other thought I had upon finishing this book was that although I look upon a lot of the naive excesses of the '60s with a great deal of superior scorn and contempt, when you jump into the era that went before, you kind of feel that the over-reaction of the 60s made a lot of sense.


Jason L said...

That pre-60s era is a really rich field for mining the twisted psychology of the middle class. There was this kind of need to be 'modern' while at the same time they were still trapped within the rigid social structure of the 50s. Simenon, Highsmith, Manchette or Hammett.

OlmanFeelyus said...

So true. It's a good point about wanting to be modern. The problem was that nobody really knew what that meant back then!

George said...

No one captured the tenor of the times in the Fifties than JDM. He also could create credible women characters which many of the writers of that time found difficult (or impossible) to do.