“Dead Low Tide” was John D. MacDonald’s sixth published novel. The 1953 Fawcett Gold Medal release is a tasty bit of Florida noir that predates his iconic Travis McGee series by over a decade and remains a fresh and exciting crime thriller 66 years later. The book is still in print currently with a loving introduction by Dean R. Koontz.
The narrator of “Dead Low Tide” is the extremely likable Andy McClintock, an over-qualified clerk with a business degree from Syracuse working for a Florida gulf-coast home-builder named John Long. One night, Andy is visited by his boss’ wife at home. Mrs. Long is concerned that her husband has recently been behaving strangely and asks Andy to snoop around and determine what’s happening. Andy is taken aback by both the visit but reluctantly gets roped into helping her.
The paperback’s back-cover synopsis reveals that Mr. Long is murdered with Andy as the primary suspect. Of course, it falls upon Andy to solve the crime and save his own hide. It’s a setup you’ve read before, and the author’s execution of the basic murder mystery format is predictably solid. The appeal of this vintage paperback is that MacDonald’s writing is top-notch, and the reader really gets to know and love Andy through the first-person narration. MacDonald touches on many of the themes he explores decades later in the Travis McGee books - most notably the ins-and-outs of real estate development on Florida’s coasts. Moreover, he makes it interesting, and you walk away knowing a thing or two you didn’t know before.
MacDonald creates a vivid supporting cast particularly in the form of Andy’s buxom neighbor with whom he used to sleep before they decided to just be friends and confidantes. The hapless police chief, the intrepid local reporter, and the clever town attorney are also examples of superior characterization in this thin, fast-moving novel.
I’ve been working my way through MacDonald’s stand-alone novels and the quality varies wildly. “Dead Low Tide”’ is a definite winner in the bunch - perhaps the best I’ve read thus far. The central mystery is compelling but not groundbreaking. However, the writing is so good that you won’t want it to end. Highly recommended.
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