Some Evaluation


 Drake is a less objectionable version of Robert Branch from The Dark Tunnel, but he is still silly enough to deliver lines like, “I’m an intellectual among roughnecks and a roughneck among intellectuals.” It will take some straight talk from his wife Margaret before Ross learns to put a sock over such nonsense.

  • I am not enthusiastic about guessing the reasons behind the naming of characters, but because swans are rumored to mate for life, an adulterous husband named “Swann” is just too good to pass up. Swann will be presented as a weak an unattractive character throughout the book.  Macdonald was famously intolerant in real life of marital infidelity. Years later, when his closest friend finally left a thoroughly miserable marriage and found lasting happiness with his new wife, Macdonald never spoke to them again.  Given the miserable nature of Macdonald’s own marriage we can only speculate on the reasons for his vehemence.
  • It took moral courage to create the Sue Sholto character in 1945. To have a Jew assertive about her identity, to challenge established racial prejudice, and to be a woman, Macdonald was pressing every button he could lay his hands on.  We forget that anti-Semitism was alive and well during the war.  Roosevelt made a calculated decision not to mention the Nazi death camps for fear of offending Polish voters and of making the war appear to be a crusade on behalf of the Jews.  The first serious cultural attack on anti-Semitism, Laura Hobson’s Gentleman’s Agreement, would not appear until 1947 and when it did, it was highly controversial.
  • Early Macdonald at his best; “Sue Shulto appeared at the foot of the stairs and came across the room towards us. The movements of her small perfect body were birdlike and precise.  I had the impression that she came back to Eric like a hawk to a wrist.”
  • The scenes at Honolulu House are well-done and well-described. Macdonald’s wartime visits to Pearl Harbor gave him the raw material for a vivid and convincing portrait.
  • The first chapter is a model of economy. In 23 pages we meet (or at least see references to) most of the important characters of the book, the main themes have been identified, and we have our first murder.  Not bad for a young ensign scribbling on a desk in the bowels of a warship in the middle of a war.


Now that we have the setup, we will move on quickly as we can to summarize the book.


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