“The Empty Trap”, published by Fawcett Gold Medal in 1957, is a shorter, stand-alone crime-fiction novel by John D. MacDonald. It's patterned like a traditional western yarn, albeit more savage and uncontrollable in a contemporary setting. While the story's most violent portions occur in Mexico, MacDonald leads his readers into the dry, scorching Nevada town called Oasis Springs. It is here where “The Empty Trap” snares Lloyd Wescott and his beautiful lover Sylvia.
In the novel's opening pages, readers are immediately introduced to Lloyd. But it's a brief introduction. You see Lloyd has skimmed nearly $100,000 from his employer, a crooked Casino calling itself The Green Oasis, and he's now a broken shell of a man about to meet death. Harry's three brutish enforcers have gang raped Sylvia to death and viciously burned and beaten Lloyd in an effort to retrieve the money. In the opening 19-pages (not for the squeamish), Lloyd is placed into a Pontiac and pushed off of a high cliff. But unbeknownst to the enforcers, Llloyd survives.
Like a rugged Spaghetti Western, Lloyd is found by an old Mexican and brought to the man's large village. The impoverished villagers slowly nurse Lloyd back to health. With his disturbing new appearance – splintered teeth, broken facial bones, spider-web of scars – Lloyd contrives a plan to avenge Sylvia's murder...and his own.
MacDonald weaves his short narrative into a series of backstories. The reader is brought full circle from Lloyd's beginnings as a hotel manager to his affair with Harry's sultry wife Sylvia. It's a timeless retelling of a man's quest to avenge the death of a loved one, but MacDonald squeezes a lot of originality out of the familiar story. Lloyd's affection for his employer's wife helps the reader identify with a flawed character (as opposed to the popular crime-fiction trend of alcohol addiction). The novel's bloody beginning sets the tone for what is ultimately a very gritty and violent tale of theft, misfortune and loss. Readers know exactly what's behind the curtain jerk, but will still be impressed by MacDonald's magic.
"The Empty Trap" proved to be a fulfilling reading experience. Buy a copy of the book HERE.