BASIL HEATTER – Virgin Cay. Gold Medal k1310, paperback original; 1st printing, June 1963.

   The primary protagonist in Virgin Cay, just as it was in A Night Out (reviewed here ), also by Basil Heatter, is once again a dedicated boatsman plying his trade in the Gulf of Mexico off the Florida shore, and if anything, even more so.

   But “plying his trade” is not entirely accurate. When asked what he does for a living (page 12), Gus Robinson’s reply is:

    “A man alone on a boat doesn’t have to make much of what you call a living. To me living and sailing are the same thing and when you’re out at sea there’s no place to spend money even if you have it, which I don’t.”

   Asking the question is a fine-looking woman whose home on Virgin Cay is where Gus washes ashore after his boat goes down about ten miles out to sea. They hit it off so well that before he leaves the next morning, the delectable Clare Loomis has a business proposition for him, one that if accepted will net Gus a cool $20,000.

   The proposition? Murder. Ordinarily Gus wouldn’t think twice before refusing, but without a boat, he’d be lost trying to survive on land. The next question: who would he have to kill? And there, as it turns out, is where the rub comes in.

   The first twist in the story is an obvious one, or it was to me and I suspect it will be to you as well. After that, though, the beauty of this story is that you, the reader, have no idea of what happens from there.

   But what does happen will have you reading the last 40 pages about as fast as you can turn them. Is the ending a happy one? I won’t tell you. Why spoil your fun?

   Heatter is a more polished writer than he was in A Night Out, written some seven years earlier, but this time around, while the sense of doomed futility is there, it is not nearly as strong. This is a suspense novel more than it is a crime thriller, and even then, the emphasis is on being a novel.

   In that regard, there are some not-so-subtle hints of John D. MacDonald in this later book, most evident when Gus reflects with dismay upon what the Florida landscape is starting to become. He’s a boat person, through and through, which I suspect was as true about the author as it is about Gus Robinson.