Friday, February 01, 2013

Forgotten Books: The Only Girl in the Game -- John D. MacDonald

When I saw this in a used-book store the other day, I couldn't resist.  I have an earlier printing, but I picked this one up to reread.  I don't know exactly how long it's been since I first read it, but it's bound to have been more than 45 years.  As you might expect, I didn't remember much about it.  

What I did remember was that the setting was Las Vegas.  Hugh Darren is the manager of the Cameroon Hotel, and he's playing it straight.  He has no involvement with the casino.  He's a hotel guy, and that's it.  He's also having an affair with one of the lounge singers, the only girl in the game.  She's 27, so feel free to object to the use of girl.  This book was published in 1960.  Nobody in the target audience would've objected then.

This isn't a mystery or even a crime novel, really.  It's just a novel, and it's one of those typical JDM books that makes you wonder if the author knew everything there was to know about everything.  His descriptions of the way the hotel is run, of the people who work there, of the Las Vegas setting and atmosphere are all detailed and complete.  MacDonald could do that book after book about seemingly anything he chose to write about, and even though the book was written more than 50 years ago, most of it still rings true.  Sure, there are a lot of '50s attitudes, but that's not what I'm talking about.  You'd have to read it to get the idea.

You won't know where the story's going.  I can promise you that.  There are a couple of things that I think will come as complete surprises.  The writing is, as always with MacDonald, top of the line.  He was writing before the law about "show, don't tell" was written, and he doesn't mind telling you things for page after page.  He'll even stop the main story to throw in 15 pages of backstory on a character.  And it doesn't matter.  You'll keep right on reading, or at least I did, because it's all so well done.

Throughout the '60s and '70s I read every book MacDonald wrote as soon as I could get my hands on it.  I remain a fan.


  1. I remain a JDM fan, too. THE ONLY GIRL IN THE GAME is one of his best books. Like you, I was reading every JDM book I could get my hands on in the Seventies and Eighties.

  2. When on the FictionMags list one of the editors quizzed the assembled as to which JDMs were the 3 best/favorites (particularly if the McGee's weren't considered), after THE EXECUTIONERS it took a perhaps unsurprisingly long time for me to finally settle on THE ONLY GIRL IN THE GAME and ONE MONDAY WE KILLED THEM ALL...were you able to answer that query?

  3. Anonymous11:04 AM

    Yet another book that is sitting on my shelves waiting to be read.

    Real Soon Now


  4. Todd, my feelings about "the best" change from day to day.

  5. "April Evil" is my favorite. But I like all the non-McGee novels. (and short stories)

  6. Michael E. Stamm11:43 AM

    One of my top 5 favorite MacDonalds, along with THE GIRL, THE GOLD WATCH AND EVERYTHING, A FLASH OF GREEN, PALE GRAY FOR GUILT and THE LAST ONE LEFT. But if I had to prune my library to the bone, there would still be a dozen or more MacDonalds in it.

  7. Yes, JDM was so consistently impressive that it's a matter of subtle gradients as to what might be the Easiest to recommend...