There are writers of great insight and writers of great entertainment. Glossy thriller scribe Gregory Mcdonald falls into the latter category and just when he’s lured you into his Hardy Boys-esque rollicking style he’ll throw you a curveball – a little nugget of humanity and humility that anchors his action in truth.
This is a guy who will take up a quarter of a novel with a ridiculous chase around an amusement park but also pepper his characters with traces of sagacity and pearls of wisdom like this: “This whole world is run, always, by tired people. People who eat a little too much, drink a little too much, take a few too many pills, sleep too little. History is nothing more than the best arrangement that can be achieved by tired minds.” Now, back to the action.
Best known for his Fletch series (which then flavour of the month Chevy Chase made into a couple of fun but flat investigative-reporter-in-disguise comedy films in the 80s), Mcdonald also penned a couple of kidnapping thrillers that have long since been forgotten. But now they’re back with a vengeance via one of my all time favourite publishers Hard Case Crime who give pulp novelists the kind of sleazy dime store cover art they really deserve. Snatch, their latest release, is no exception.
It’s actually a twofer: Snatch contains both Snatched (1980) and Safekeeping (1985). While neither are lost masterworks, they are zesty little page-turners that are populated by memorable villains and victims (and precious few heroes). Some chapters are less than a page long. This is a breezy set of novels that you can either easily pop in and out of or alternately just submit to their runaway train pace.
The best novelists are the most readable and Mcdonald makes himself very easy to get on with. His books are akin to fast food but with some surprising chunks of nutrition amid the mouthwatering junk.
Mcdonald’s skill, demonstrated well in both of these somewhat unbelievable stories, comes from expanding the fears inherent within a claustrophobic situation into a riveting, delirious ensemble. Wonderfully adept at weaving in new characters, Mcdonald takes a simple melody and orchestrates it into a cacophony of noise. It demands your attention.