The ingredients are by now familiar. Heck, they were familiar more than forty years ago. Small town. War vet. Ill-gotten gains hidden away. Tough cop. Buried secrets. Beautiful women. It's not so much the ingredients as what you do with them, however, and John D. MacDonald was a master producing a tasty dish.
Tal Howard's the war vet, back home after having survived a North Korean prison camp. One of his fellow prisoners, who knows he's going to die, has told Tal about embezzling $60,000 from his brother's business, but he doesn't reveal where it's hidden. He does, however, give Tal a clue.
Tal finds himself at loose ends after the war. His life doesn't have much purpose, and he realizes he doesn't love the girl he's supposed to marry. So he takes off. He goes to the small Florida town where the money's hidden to see if he can find it and maybe find some meaning for his life at the same time.
Already in town is Fitzmartin, another ex-POW, and he knows about the money, too. He's been looking for it for a while, and he's one of MacDonald's cold, hard, implacable villains. A fine creation. What he lacks, aside from any human feeling, is the clue that Tal has.
Tal, of course, meets a beautiful woman. Not just a woman. The Woman. But he doesn't tell her the truth about why he's in town. That doesn't work out so well. Then Tal meets another woman, the one who has the answer he's looking for. Things happen.
Great characters, smooth writing, a fine action chase and climax. It doesn't turn out as you might expect. MacDonald doesn't spare anybody. There's a sort-of happy ending, though it's by no means certain that things will work out, not after all that's happened.
All through the book there are great little touches of description and character that MacDonald just sort of tosses off as if it were the easiest thing in the world. Believe me, it's not.
The cover makes the book appear to be a backwoods novel, and while it's a great cover, it's highly misleading. Don't let it keep you from reading the book, which might not be MacDonald's best but which is likely to keep you pinned to your chair for a few hours just the same.