Friday, July 15, 2011

A Bullet for Cinderella

John D. MacDonald was an incredibly prolific author. Over the course of his career he wrote over 70 novels and countless short stories. When MacDonald left the army at the end of World War II he began writing stories for the pulp magazines of the era. In the 1950s MacDonald began churning out one pulp fiction novel after another which were published as “paperback originals.” Living first in Mexico in the late 1940s and then re-locating to Sarasota, Florida in the 1950s, MacDonald is recognized as one of the masters of the “hard-boiled” crime noir genre.

John D. MacDonald

A Bullet for Cinderella (1955) (also published as On the Make) is a story as hard-boiled as a 30 minute egg. Tal Howard has recently been discharged from the army after being captured by the Chinese in the Korean War. While a prisoner of war Tal had met Timmy Warden who told Tal how he had embezzled and hidden $60,000 (a lot of money in 1955) from his brother’s lumber and hardware business. Timmy also told Tal that the only person who knew where the money was hidden was his former girlfriend Cindy.

Armed with the above information, Tal shows up in Timmy’s hometown of Hillston to try to find Cindy and locate the stolen money. When Tal gets to Hillston he is surprised to find Fitzmartin who was also in the prison camp. In prison, Fitzmartin was a weasel who collaberated with the enemy and would not lend any assistance to fellow prisoners. Fitz had overheard Timmy tell Tal about the money. While Tal was still recuperating in an army hospital, Fitz has shown up in Hillston and gotten a job working for George Warden, Timmy’s brother. George, whose no good wife Eloise is believed to have run off with a traveling salesman, has become a down and out alcoholic.

Tal begins to poke around and ask questions and looks up as many of Timmy’s former friends and associates as he can find. Tal begins to be more than friends with Timmy’s former girlfriend Ruth. There’s also Timmy’s old girlfriend, the dirt poor Antoinette Rasi who lived in squalor in a shack next to the river. In the eighth grade Timmy had played Prince Charming and Antoinette had played Cinderella. Antoinette has gone to the big city, changed her name and become a high class call girl for the mob. Timmy used to call her Cindy . . .

The body count in A Bullet for Cinderella goes pretty high with the inept Hillston Police apparently too hapless to do much about it and Tal, who has no experience as a detective, doing a much better job of putting the pieces together. Characteristic of MacDonald, Tal does a good bit of philosophizing about the nature of life and trying to “find himself.” In the end, Tal finds out that the love of a good woman is more valuable than money.

For a thorough discussion of this novel and everything related to John D. MacDonald, visit the blog A Trap of Solid Gold.

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