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2018 Book #23 - Soft Touch by John D. MacDonald


Solid 1968 crime novel. This would have made a good film noir, if it had been written 10 or 20 years earlier. Like most things of its kind, it's really a meditation on the soul-crushing emptiness of suburbia, as experienced by men who fought in WWII and were now expected to care about bridge & golf & their yards.

His wife's a lush and their childless marriage is a hollow shell. His father-in-law is also his boss and his life is a monotonous grind. When an old war buddy shows up proposing an easy caper, where nobody is supposed to get hurt and they will drive off with a suitcase full of bills, he doesn't want to admit it but he's hooked. It looks like a way out.

Needless to say, the job is not the "soft touch" it was made out and everything goes south quickly. And the psychological effect of a suitcase full of money is unhealthy. But the interesting thing is that for quite a while, he has to fall back into his old life and lay low, keeping it secret from his wife, groveling to get his job back. It's the pressure he endures while faking it that is really the heart of the novel.

Of course, being mid-century crime fiction written for a male audience, the women are either unknowable objects of desire or paper thin stock characters.

There are some nice moments, though, like when a missing woman's father dreams she is dead, which she is. He can't know it, but he feels certain, and it affects events. It's not a terribly original story, but there are occasional flourishes of imagination that keep it from feeling completely formulaic. I enjoyed it for that, and for its evocation of the boredom of the post-war American Dream.

Tags: 2018 book reviews
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