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The Worst Book I Have Ever Finished Reading!

November 5, 2021

Deadly Welcome by John D. MacDonald isn’t the worst book I’ve ever started reading, but it’s probably the worst book that I’ve finished.

It’s one of those old pocketbooks from the 1950s and 1960s. Pocketbooks were straight-to-paperback novels printed on really cheap but aromatic paper. They’re kind of like the literary world’s version of movies that go straight to cable/video/dvd/redbox, except straight-to-video movies usually suck (or have a limited potential audience) but a lot of the pocketbooks could actually be pretty good.

John D. MacDonald’s books were often pretty good. Decades ago I owned one of his short story collections The Good Old Stuff. I’ve always liked that title. It’s not pretentious. He admits that the stories are just good. He doesn’t try to oversell his product. He just calls it “stuff.” I respect that.

Deadly Welcome is old (if a book published in 1959 is considered old), but I don’t think it was ever good. It’s bad even by pocketbook standards. I finished it only because it was short, less than 200 pages long, and I wanted to see if John D. MacDonald could actually write a book that was 100% crappy. He almost succeeded. I think I found one good page in the whole book, and I’m being generous; that one page was only almost good.

The book has four major flaws. The first is that the protagonist doesn’t have to work that hard to solve the mystery. Characters just show up and talk and inadvertently give him the information he needs. That happens in a lot of mysteries, but in most books the protagonist has to try a little bit.

Next, the book is almost all exposition through dialogue. Most of the action is told through characters talking in giant block boring paragraphs. Again, this is standard in a lot of mysteries, but authors usually figure out a way to break up the monotony a little bit.

Even worse, the femme fatale sucks. This book had two potential femme fatales. One got murdered before the book even starts. If a female character is already dead at the beginning of the story, then she can’t be the femme fatale. Plus, she never got any guy to kill for her before she died. If she can’t get a guy to kill for her, then she’s just a slutty chick, not a femme fatale.

Don’t get me wrong, slutty chicks are great in fiction. I’ve learned to stay away from slutty women in my own personal life (man, they can cause serious problems), but they’re great in fiction. The only rule for slutty women in fiction is that they actually have to be alive in the novel, at least for a little while. A dead slutty woman is useless in a pocketbook novel.

The other femme fatale candidate was the dead slutty woman’s sister, who of course was overly-virtuous. The overly-virtuous sister would have been alright if she’d loosened up a bit, but no, she pretty much stayed virtuous throughout the novel. A woman who can somewhat maintain her virtue is great in real life (and possibly in literary fiction if the character’s goal is to maintain virtue in a world full of sin), but it makes for a lousy pocketbook novel.

My last complaint about Deadly Welcome is that even the violence sucked. I’m not a violent person. I haven’t been in a real fight since I was 15, and I lost in grand one-sided fashion. Years later, I sucker-punched a guy, but that doesn’t count as a real fight because I cheated. Looking back, I probably could have gotten into huge legal trouble, but luckily the crowd was on my side. If the crowd is on your side, you can get away with almost anything.

Deadly Welcome has maybe two violent sequences, and there’s no emotional impact to either of them. Even when a couple minor characters get killed, nobody really shows that they care. The characters in the book cared that the slutty woman had gotten murdered before the book started, but nobody cared that a couple guys got killed while chasing the guy who had murdered the slutty woman.

The book had a couple opportunities for a good bar brawl but failed to deliver. Whenever I have a slow spot in my own fiction, I throw in a good bar brawl. If I’m really desperate, I’ll have a slutty woman get a couple guys to fight, and everybody in the bar starts pummeling each other for no reason. Those scenes are fun to write. But I’ve never killed off a slutty woman in any of my stories. They’re too valuable to kill off in fiction. John D. MacDonald should have known better.

If you’ve never read a John D. MacDonald novel, don’t start with Deadly Welcome.

One Comment
  1. “Years later, a sucker-punched a guy but that doesn’t count as a real fight because I cheated. ” 😆

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