After 13-years of writing stand-alone hardboiled and crime noir novels, MacDonald's love for nautical adventure and the Florida Gulf Coast would logically evolve into a series character. Beginning in 1964, the author would embark on a 21-book series of nautical-crime books starring salvage-consultant Travis McGee. MacDonald's transition into the series mostly halted his stand-alone hardboiled-crime writing. In fact, 1963 proved to be one of the last few years that MacDonald would write multiple stand-alone novels. That year, he wrote a screenplay novelization called I'll Go on Singing and only two crime novels – The Drowner and On the Run. I decided to try out the latter title to determine if the author's crime-noir writing had declined by that point in his career.
On the Run introduces readers to a multimillionaire named Tom. At 90-years old, the feeble man has hired a private-investigator to track down his two estranged grandchildren – George and Sid. In backstory, the author reveals that both were taken from Tom in their early childhood. After their mother died, the two were placed into foster care and ultimately grew up apart from each other and their grandfather. With over $8-million to divvy up, Tom hopes to locate the two of them.
The first few chapters are dedicated to Sid's life as a soldier, used car salesman and husband. After learning that his wife had an affair with a high-level crime-kingpin, Sid assaults the man and leaves him facially scarred. Since the beating, Sid stays one step ahead of the mob and flees from town to town. It's a roadside life filled with deceit, booze and women. After learning Sid's whereabouts, Tom sends his nurse to Texas to summon Sid back home. In doing so, Tom opens the door for a mob assassin to track down Sid's location.
In alternating chapters, there's a backstory on George, a fairly one-dimensional character that's greedy and deceptive. Knowing about Sid's price tag to the mob, George is enthusiastic to meet Sid at their grandfather's house. Hoping to not only cash-in with the mob, George wants to get his hands on Sid's portion of their grandfather's inheritance.
In a rare misstep, John D. MacDonald creates a convoluted mess for the reader to follow. With having to explore both George and Sid's past, the interweaving characters didn't quite meld together as well as the author likely intended. At 140-pages, I could sense that MacDonald had some unused story ideas and just threw them together in an attempt at fluid storytelling. The pacing is off, there's minimum character development and the romantic narrative planned between Tom's nurse Paula and Sid was rushed and didn't feel organic.
On the Run suffers from misdirection, shallow characters and an uneven plot. With so many great MacDonald novels to choose from, your reading efforts would be better spent somewhere else. On the Run is disposable fiction.
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