Tuesday 16 November 2010

The Only Girl in the Game by John D. MacDonald (Pan Paperback)

Aaaaand the connection between Ross Macdonald and John D. MacDonald is... their surname. Yeah, OK, it's a bit lame, but there is more to it than that. First, though, there's this:

The 1967 UK Pan paperback (first thus) of John D. MacDonald's The Only Girl in the Game, originally published in the States by Gold Medal in 1960 and in the UK (in a now-very valuable hardback, natch) by Robert Hale in 1962. As with the book featured in the previous post, I bought this at the recent London Pulp and Paperback Fair. I've never read any MacDonald, but the cover caught my eye, and the Las Vegas setting intrigued me, and it was cheap, and I knew I wanted to read something of MacDonald's at some point, but didn't want to get sucked into another series – in MacDonald's case the Travis McGee novels. So I grabbed this.

And as it turns out, it looks as if it's going to be a splendid introduction to MacDonald's writing. The excellent blog Mystery File has a terrific post on MacDonald, focusing on, as luck would have it, The Only Girl in the Game. Follow that link and give it a read, and I'll meet you back here when you're done.

Finished? Good, wasn't it? Plus, it saves you the horror of having to read one of my dreadful sight-unseen plot summaries, not to mention me the chore of having to write one. Anyway, back to that Macdonald / MacDonald connection. Aside from the similar surnames – Ross Macdonald's being invented, of course – the two Macs were also contemporaries. And both being creators of a series of first-person novels starring a private investigator – Macdonald's Lew Archer and MacDonald's aforementioned Travis McGee – you'd think they might have had much in common, maybe even have been friends, or at least associates. Not so. A 1976 Roger Ebert interview with John D. MacDonald recently surfaced online, and towards the end of that, Ebert raises the question of the similarity between the two writers' names. MacDonald points out that Ross Macdonald's then-latest book, The Blue Hammer, sported the kind of title that John D. might've picked for one of his own famously colour-themed Travis McGee titles. He then goes on to say:

"I wrote him... I said, 'no doubt this is innocence on your part, but people are going to think it's meretricious.' He didn't reply. I must confess I feel a little irritated by that."

Not a lot of love lost there, then. As for the cover of this Pan edition of The Only Girl in the Game, I can't tell you for sure who was responsible for that snazzy photo-montage, but it's possible David Larkin had a hand in it, as I think by this point he'd taken over as Pan's art director, moving the imprint's covers in a more photographic direction. As ever, if you want to know more about Pan Books, head over to the Pan Paperback Collectors Website, where you'll find a near-complete Pan bibliography and accompanying covers.


  1. I have a large, unread stack of John D. MacDonald books - maybe half of the Travis McGee books and a stand alone called Dead, Low Tide. Ever since I read


    in the Washington Post, I have wanted to become a JDM fan.

    Also - I don't know if you've seen it but there's a blog devoted exclusively to JDM called


    and it is an amazing piece of work.

  2. Ta for the tip-offs, especially that blog. I'm reading that right now. You're right, it's bloody impressive.

  3. The Only Girl in the Game is a terrific intro to JDM. I like his standalones better than his Travis series (which I still rate pretty highly), and The Only Girl in the Game is one of the best.

    The US edition has a foxy McGinnis cover, too!

  4. Ooh, McGinnis... nice...

    Your site is indeed awesome, by the way.

  5. In the days of the Fawcett Gold Medal editions, John D. was often compared to John O'Hara ("Butterfield 8," "Ten North Frederick"). Fair -- except John D. was a much more entertaining writer. His "Ballroom of the Skies" is top-notch SF, too.

    When he died ca. 1986, the national five-minute news summary on NBC or CBS Radio actually mentioned his passing.

  6. Thanks for the info, Benzadmiral – and for the other comments you've been leaving: I see you've been making your way through Existential Ennui's archives, commenting as you go. Not sure how beneficial prolonged exposure to my ramblings will be, but hope you're enjoying what you find!

  7. THE ONLY GIRL IN THE GAME shows how JDM was able to write books that appealed to women readers as well as men.

  8. Michael E. Stamm13 April 2012 at 18:30

    THE ONLY GIRL IN THE GAME is one of JDM's very best stand-alone titles; others include A FLASH OF GREEN (maybe my favorite JDM title of all), THE LAST ONE LEFT, and THE EXECUTIONERS. And of course the McGee series is outstanding.

  9. Thanks for the comments, George and Michael (hey! George Michael! Ahem). As I mentioned over on Patti's blog, I've read The Only Girl in the Game since I posted this, and it is excellent: a strong female co-lead, as you suggest, George, and I can well believe it's one of MacDonald's best, Michael.

  10. Nick, now you're talkin'! JDM is a big thing to me. Travis McGee was a huge factor in my teenage years. But not enough is said about his excellent standalones.

    Great post. I hope you get around to reading the McGees. If I might recommend one or two to see if you like the flavor and the narrative voice, try The Turquoise Lament or A Tan and Sandy Silence. Each have self-contained stories (some of the others benefit from reading previous entries) and each give you a classic taste of that McGee voice that launched a thousand copycats and has still never been bettered.

    Dave (from VWOP).

  11. Hello, Dave! I am considering the McGees, but I was a bit perplexed as to where to start. So I shall take your recommendations under advisement. Mind you, British first editions of the novels can be pretty pricey, so I'll have to see how I get on.