It was by pure accident that I found myself reading John D. MacDonald’s The Beach Girls. Inadvertently finding itself into a basket at the local broken spine while a certain non-observant buyer was picking out some Ross MacDonald mysteries off the shelves — because who doesn’t love Lew Archer, am I right?, I didn’t discover it until long after it was paid for and tossed into the massive to read pile. This accident proved fortuitous, however, and I can now add another author to the must read list.
Despite the salacious cover — standard fare on these old Gold Medal pulps — the grist of this story is a sociological and anthropological study of the hard-drinking and hard-fighting denizens of a a rundown harbor in South Florida; the charter captains, the deck hands, and the women they leave behind, and what all these people do when the sun goes down, the moon comes out and the tide dictates who shacks up with who on a nightly basis. There’s some added intrigue when one of the less popular tenant’s shady past, involving bilking money from many a jilted lover … some alive, some dead, finally catches up to him in the form of one of his victim’s estranged husbands, whose come gunning for him, and outside economic forces are forcing the owner of the harbor to sell out to the mob who want to build a resort on the land.
But, frankly, none of that really matters as MacDonald’s strength is his well defined and drawn out characters; and there’s a lot of them, but each is given a chapter to introduce themselves and advance the plot from their own perspective. I found this approach to be a unique and a refreshing change of pace, and even though the ending wraps up a little too neatly for all involved, I found myself having enjoyed the ride so much I really didn’t care.