Well, while I was laid up with the flu last week, I got the hankering to read another one rather than the fantasy novel I’m susposed to be reading for review. (I blame it on the pharmaceuticals.)
This is one of MacDonald’s earliest novels and went through a number of reprintings, as evidenced by not only several different covers, but several different prices on the same cover illustration.
The setup in this one is pretty straight forward. MacReedy works for an international construction company. A few years ago he was in charge of widening a highway from two to four lanes outside a small college town. While there he meets a young woman named Vicky Landy, whose whiz-kid brother is a freshman at the college. Vicky and Alister are orphans, and Alister is one of those brilliant kids who hasn’t quite caught the knack of fitting in socially.
MacReedy seduces Vicky, a seduction that culminates just as he is finishing the job. Vicky had hoped to marry him, and he leaves her with a broken heart. MacReedy spends the next three years in Spain on a major project, but he can’t get Vicky out of his mind.
Upon his return, he is planning on taking a couple of months off to do some fishing when he sees a small story on the back page of the paper. Alister is set to be executed for the rape and murder of a 16 year old girl.
MacReedy can’t believe he did it. So he sets out to do two things. First, reconcile with VIcky. Second, do what he can to prove that Alister is innocent. Neither of these things will be easy.
For a book that was first published 60 years ago (the first of two copyrights on it is 1956), Death Trap holds up pretty well. There are some references to juvenile delinquency that sound a little dated, more in their terminology than anything else.
The pacing is good, and of course the characterization is what you expect from MacDonald, namely in depth. There’s some action, but there’s also some of the social commentary MacDonald would later turn into an art form.
I thought the resolution of the story depended a bit too much on popular psychoanalysis of the time, certainly moreso than you would see these days. But other than MacReedy lighting up a cigarette pretty much anywhere he feels like it, there weren’t many period details that I found jarring.
Death Trap is a solid novel, maybe not one of MacDonald’s best known, or even among his best (I’ve not read enough of his non-Travid McGee titles to say), but it was an enjoyable way to pass a couple of afternoons. And it put me in the mood for more of MacDonald’s work.