Underground Reading: The Blue Ants by Bernard Newman

Underground Reading: Deadly Welcome by John D MacDonald

Deadly Welcome - John D MacDonaldDeadly Welcome (1958) is one of John D. MacDonald's less heralded stand-alone thrillers. Alex Doyle is a State Department trouble-shooter on his most awkward mission yet. 

An expert in handling tricky foreign situations, Alex is uncomfortably assigned to return to his hometown of Ramona Beach, Florida. Alex is forced to confront his past (as poor white trash) as well as his present (as the whipping boy for a brutal small-town deputy).

The book mashes together many of JDM's favorite themes and tropes, most of which he's used to great success in other stories. As well as the Florida, beachfront location, Deadly Welcome contains a broad-shouldered, healthy-looking woman with sexual hang-ups, the aforementioned brutal deputy, a sultry blonde and a miserly land-owner. 

However, unlike many of Mr MacDonald's other books, Deadly Welcome lacks a compelling central character to tie it all together. Alex Doyle is so bland as to be invisible - so much so that when chapter 11 starts with 'Alex walked up the beach...' my first response was 'who?'. Alex has the obligatory tragic past, but most of his problems are really quite trivial, and easily resolved. 

As a whole, the town of Ramona Beach as littered with moral lessons as a collection of Andersen's fairy tales. The good folks get love, family and cash, the bad folks get painful, lonely deaths. The only character that visibly develops or changes is Betty, the love interest. And that transformation is between sexual frigidity to romantic glutton, the catalyst somehow being Alex's wafer-thin pheromonal presence.

Students of the slappenfuk will be disappointed to see that the genre-honored practice is almost - but not quite - absent. JDM wisely passes up an opportunity to have Alex smack Betty into sexual healing. However, a male bonding session between Alex and Buddy (Betty's brother, of course) almost fits the bill. Buddy is initially clumsy, hesitant and shy around Alex. So Alex punches him in the face. After a sweaty brawl, the two are joined at the hip - closer than kin. 

Deadly Welcome is sadly just another JDM novel that is only of value to the collectors and the completists (and those that combine traits from both camps). Although it contains many recognizable elements of the JDM mythos, Deadly Welcome largely uses them in lifeless, uninteresting ways.

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