Review of On the Make by John MacDonald

SFFaudio Review

On the Make by John D. MacDonaldOn the Make
By John D. MacDonald; Performed by Robert Armin
Publisher: Gutter Books on Audible.com
Published: 31 May 2013
[UNABRIDGED]  – 5 hours, 18 minute

Themes: / hard-boiled / noir / crime / mystery /

Publisher summary:

Tal Howard, a disillusioned Korean War vet, breaks away from his old life, looking for answers and convinced he’s going to find them in the small town of Hillston. What’s in Hillston? Sixty grand in embezzled funds that Howard learned about from a dying friend in a POW camp. He just needs to find out where the money is hidden and contend with another former POW who has come looking for it, Earl Fitzmartin–a psychopath they were all terrified of in the camp. Howard soon learns that the secret to the money’s location lies in the dead man’s past, which must be discovered through the women he knew, such as the respectable Ruth Stamm and the sultry and dangerous Toni Rassele.

A reissue of John D. MacDonald’s 1955 standalone novel On The Make was among the first books to be released from independent publisher Gutter Books after evolving from a 7 issue run of the amazing Out of the Gutter short fiction journal which debuted in 2008. Gutter books released to date have included other classic crime reprints, new original crime novels from authors such as Joe McKinney, the anthology Atomic Noir edited by Duane Swierczynski with Lou Boxer, and even a reprint of Gold Medal’s 1950 UFO inquiry The Flying Saucers are Real by former Marine Corps naval aviator Donald Keyhoe. Now On The Make has launched as the first of what hopes to be many titles to be brought to the audiobook format by Gutter Books.

The reissue includes an introductory essay “The Two Sides of John D.” by Martin L. Kohler and a concluding essay by Gutter Book’s own Matthew Louis, both which I appreciate being included in the both the new print edition as well as the audiobook. I do have one slight issue with the introductory essay in that although On the Make was in fact the author’s intended title for the novel, the publishers went with a different title, one that in my opinion serves as a major plot spoiler consider a specific main character in the novel. Therefore my own recommendation would be to save both essays for enjoyment later after listening to the story first. That being said, my understanding is that the mention in the prologue was left intact so as not to mislead any readers who may have already be familiar with the book from the former title.

The hard-boiled 1st person narrative of On the Make is handled well by narrator Robert Armin, whose other audiobook credits include non-fiction, self-help, children’s, and crime titles as well as his own writing. The main character, Tal Howard, is a veteran of the Korean War brought to a small town seeking buried riches hinted to him from the last wishes of a fellow prisoner of war. Tal quickly finds many others snooping around and that other strangers have already outstayed their welcome in the town of Hillston. I’ve personally only read other standalone novels from the John D MacDonald bibliography and based on what I’ve read I feel this novel serves as a great introduction to this period. The essays give a good comparison and contrast from this era with his later and better known Travis McGee series of novels. Also of interest and mentioned in high regard is the science fiction works of the author which have included short stories and a handful of novels. I recalled enjoying On the Make first time around when I read the Gutter Books paperback, and enjoyed revisiting the story with the audiobook. I may have to check out some of the John D. MacDonald series or sci-fi novels.

Posted by Dan VK

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