JOHN D. MacDONALD – You Live Once. Popular Library #737, paperback original, March 1956; reprinted as You Kill Me, G507, 1961. Reprinted several times in paperback under its original title by Gold Medal, including d1761, 1966.

   I read a lot of John D. MacDonald when I was twenty, and I always meant to get back that way someday. Well here I am. You Live Once is a tight, fast-paced and deftly-plotted thing, maybe no great shakes as a mystery, but it will keep you turning the pages right from the start.

   Ah yes, the start: That’s when Clinton Sewell, a mid-level cog in the local branch of a giant manufacturing corporation (we used to have them here) is awakened by police who want to know what happened to the missing young lady he was last seen with last night—a local heiress named Mary Olen, known (according to the back cover) for her “easy-loving” ways.

   Clint satisfies the cops that he doesn’t know where-the-hell she is, they leave, and minutes later he funds Mary’s body in his closet, strangled with his belt.

   Now that’s how to start a story!

   Clint knows he didn’t kill Mary last night, and it turns out he was only dating her as a cover for her affair with his sunuvabitch boss, but he also knows the police won’t look very far for the murderer if he calls them back, so he does what any Real Man would do in a paperback: he hides the body and tries to find out whodunit.

   The next hundred pages are the usual thing, with sexy ladies and suspects looking equally guilty, a few beatings, tough cops and a too-smart private eye, all done up in the smooth style that made MacDonald a favorite over at Gold Medal a few years later. Like I say, the solution is nothing that will make you jump up and holler “Damn, that’s right!” but it’s agreeable getting there.

   And I did notice a couple of things that lift this one a bit out of the ordinary: first, MacDonald paints a compelling picture of America in the mid-1950s, sharply-drawn and colorful, reflecting the fads and mores of the time without the fatuous moralizing that slowed down the Travis McGee books. And then there’s MacDonald’s women….

   I liked the way he did this. When Clint Sewell / John D. MacDonald describes a woman for us, he does it like a man who loves women, appreciating their flaws and perfections in equal measure without the gaping, juvenile objectification of too many pulp-writers. It’s a mature, respectful and stylish lust, and just one of the pleasures of reading MacDonald.