Sunday, April 07, 2019

26. Cinnamon Skin by John D. MacDonald

I found this first edition hardcover in one of those little neighbourhood book exchange.  I love John D. MacDonald but I don't seek his books out because they are so readily available and I like to keep them as fallbacks for when reading choices are limited.  I am also wary of the later Travis McGee books.  McGee is a philosopher and MacDonald does a lot of social observation and commentary via McGee's voice.  His perpetual bachelorhood seems forced by 1982 and you get a feeling that John D. himself senses he is a bit left behind.

Cinnamon Skin starts off convoluted, with a lot of back story referring to a previous book where his friend Mayer had his spirit broken by a psychopath, plus another doomed McGee love affair.  There are a lot of characters and narratives in the first few pages and I was slightly offput.  But once Mayer's niece and  new husband get blown up on his boat with a not very credible Chilean extremist group claiming responsibility, things get going.  You know the explosion isn't what it seems and the unraveling (and investigating) of what really happened is quite cool.  McGee and Mayer travel to weird little corners of poor white America and Mexico and get involved in a bunch of mini-adventures.  The ending is a bit of a letdown as the rich psychological profile of the target of their investigation that MacDonald developos so nicely is not fully exploited in the climax and I felt a bit of a letdown. 


We learn quite early that the husband wasn't actually on the boat, and as they dig into his past, they learn so little about him that he becomes their target.  In their hunt for him, it is slowly revealed that he has been serially falling in love with woman under a different identity each time, killing them and absconding with their money.  His psychosis was caused by a sex-ravenous Mexican-Italian stepmom who seduced him. His dad caught them, killed her and either shot himself or the son shot him.  McGee meets with an old psychologist friend, who explains how that kind of trauma could turn someone into a serial killer (he later gets a verbal agreement with her for some friends with benefits).  The straight-facedness of this very implausible explanation was a bit much.  It looks Horny Stepmoms as a theme has been around long before PornHub made it a trending topic,


Lohr McKinstry said...

MacDonald spent summers at a house he owned on Piseco Lake in the Adirondacks of northern New York and he frequently worked the area into his books. The car chase on Route 8 in "Cinnamon Skin" would have been just down the road from his real-life house. The Mohawk inn in the book was really Zeiser's Restaurant in Speculator, New York, where MacDonald often ate and which had a John D. MacDonald Room filled with his books and such.

OlmanFeelyus said...

Very cool! Thanks for that info, Lohr. I would have loved to have seen the John D. MacDonald room.

Lohr McKinstry said...

Unfortunately, Zeiser's is closed now. I wonder what happened to the contents of the MacDonald Room. The place was owned by John and Geneveve Zeiser, now both passed away. I lived in Speculator in the '80s and would see MacDonald around but I never said more than hello. I regret not talking to his about his writing career, but I didn't want to invade his privacy.

Will Errickson said...

"I don't seek his books out because they are so readily available"

You can say that again! In every used bookstore I've gone to over 30 years there's been a pile of MacDonald books, more so than any other author's (even prolific ones like Agatha Christie or Dickens). I wonder if anyone's done the math on copies printed of his paperbacks!

OlmanFeelyus said...

He is like the Lee Child of the 20th century. :)