Monday, December 22, 2014

Books by John D MacDonald

When I was in the process of getting The Trap of Solid Gold back up on its feet last summer I spent lot of time going over everything I had written so far, fixing spelling and grammatical errors, adding and cleaning up artwork for the individual postings, and changing the overall look of the blog to a brighter, more reader-friendly layout. I re-checked the connections to the links I had posted in the righthand column to make sure that they still took the reader to where they were supposed to, and in doing so visited these sites for the first time in years. It made me recall something that had been nagging me: there is no completely accurate listing of John D MacDonald’s books or short stories on the internet.

There are many, many sites that list the books, and even though MacDonald wrote a lot, they are fairly easy to identify and name. None of them, however, list the books in the proper order of publication. The short stories are a different matter, but two of the sites I have links to -- Cal Branche’s JDM Homepage and The Thrilling Detective Website’s JDM entry -- contain fairly comprehensive, but incomplete, listings of the shorter works. I decided that as part of this blog’s relaunch I would add a section on the right containing my own JDM resources, starting with the two lists, but I got wrapped up in the writing and neglected that project for several months. This week I finally got around to part one, The Books, and you should see it now in a box titled The Trap of Solid Gold Resources. Each book’s entry includes the month and year of publication, the publisher, the first-edition format (paperback or hardcover) and a link to my blog entry on a particular novel, assuming I’ve already written one.

Why do I contend that my list is more accurate than others available on the web? A good question, and one that I will be happy to explain.


Most editions of MacDonald’s books contain a listing of his prior works, usually appearing before the title page in the Fawcett editions, and it’s more of an advertisement than a definitive listing of books. (For example: “Other Fawcett Gold Medal Books by John D MacDonald.”) The first organized attempt to create an accurate chronological listing occurred in 1965, when a MacDonald fan named Tony Ellik wrote to the author requesting a list of his books. MacDonald responded in detail. Ellik sent a copy of the list to friend and fellow JDM fan Len Moffatt, who typed it up, mimeographed it and mailed it out to several fellow fans. It turned out to be Issue Number One of The JDM Bibliophile.

That list included a couple of titles absent from the Fawcett listings (Weep for Me and I Could Go On Singing) and included one novel, The Blood Game, which MacDonald had been working on for years but hadn’t yet completed. He would eventually scrap The Blood Game but it still showed up on many early lists of MacDonald’s books.

In 1980 Walter and Jean Shine published their landmark JDM bibliography, ponderously titled A Bibliography of the Published Works of John D MacDonald with Selected Biographical Materials and Critical Essays. Understandably, we JDM bibliophiles referred to it simply as “The Bibliography.” It listed the books chronologically in several sections of the work, and even included the month of the year most titles were published. Unfortunately many of them were wrong.

Then in 1988 the Shines published their most detailed bibliography to date, A MacDonald Potpourri, which carried another long subtitle: “being a miscellany of post-perusal pleasures of the John D MacDonald books for bibliophiles, bibliographers and bibliomaniacs.” For this work Walter had managed to access the records of several of MacDonald’s publishers, including Fawcett (Ballantine), Lippincott, Harper and Row, and Knopf. Others, such as Dell and Popular Library, were either spotty or unavailable. The book contained a series of checklists, the first of which was a chronological list of JDM books. The last section was a series of tables, which listed each and every printing of each and every JDM book, taken directly from publishers’ records. But there was one problem: the chronology didn’t match the tables.

Here is one example. The chronology lists MacDonald’s first three 1958 novels in the following order:

24. The Deceivers
25. Clemmie
26. The Executioners

Yet when one turns to the tables and reads the publishers’ records, it is revealed that The Executioners was published in April, The Deceivers in May and Clemmie in July. There is no explanation for this discrepancy anywhere in the book. And it is not the only example.

In other cases where publisher records were not available, there is guesswork offered in the tables, or simply no month of publication at all. This is where the Shine’s final work comes in handy. Published in 1993, Rave of Rage: The Critics & John D MacDonald, the book was a collection of excerpts from various reviews of MacDonald’s books found in newspapers and magazines throughout the English-speaking world. Using the publication dates of early reviews helps in determining the proper order of works where information is incomplete or where there is a “tie,” i.e. both works published in the same month. Here’s an example.

Ballroom of the Skies was MacDonald’s second science fiction novel and his second first-edition hardcover release. It was one of two JDM novels published in 1952, the other being The Damned. There is no month of release supplied in the Tables for Ballroom, and according to Fawcett The Damned was published in May. The Chronology lists Ballroom before The Damned, yet the first of several reviews of Ballroom didn’t appear until early 1953. So The Damned gains primacy in this argument.

Most of these quibbles occur in the earlier phase of MacDonald’s novel-writing career, when he was churning them out one right after the other. Like many other authors, he had as many as three different works under construction at the same time, so exactly when one was finished and another was still being written is something that will perhaps never be known. Further complicating matters, many of his novels appeared in magazines like Cosmopolitan, Collier’s and Redbook, and often the publication of a novel in book form had to be delayed in order for the magazine version (usually condensed) to appear and then get off the stands. A good example is The Executioners (which I will write about next week) which first appeared as a serialized novel in the October and November issues of Ladies’ Home Journal, the same month The Price of Murder hit the paperback stands and two months before two other 1957 efforts showed up: The Empty Trap and A Man of Affairs. Yet the hardcover version of The Executioners didn’t appear until April, so it comes after all these other titles in all chronologies.

This attempt to correct the proper order of these books is my best effort, and like those before me, I probably made mistakes here and there. If anyone sees anything obvious, please let me know. The list is presented on Google Docs, not because this is the premier presentation vehicle, but because when it comes to doing anything like this on a web page, I am a complete moron.  I wrote my original list on Word, where the management of tabs is fairly easy and straightforward, but when I tried to put it on my Google web page, the tab demarcations disappeared. After hours of pulling my remaining hair out, I finally transferred the document to Google Docs and with a little extra work, managed to get something that doesn’t look terrible. If there’s anyone out there who would like to publish this on a real web page, feel free to do so. All I ask is that you let me know and that I get some attribution.

Update (14 January 2015):

Thanks to an offer from Trap of Solid Gold reader J.J. Walters, the “Books by John D MacDonald” link will now take you to a real web page, with a much more viewer-friendly table containing all of the information I compiled, plus more. Mr. Walters, who possesses all the computer skills that I do not, graciously volunteered to take on the task of redoing the list, and he made many helpful suggestions that led to the inclusion of additional information. Now, in addition to seeing all of the original data from my Google Doc (Title, publication date, publisher, format and link to my essay on that particular novel), J.J. suggested -- and we added -- price of the first edition, cover artist or designer and a notes column that contains any interesting bits of information that he could fit in a small space. It’s a much more comprehensive listing and will hopefully be of greater use to the readers of John D MacDonald’s works.

Next up… the short story database. It’s a longer list and will take more time, but your patience will be rewarded.


  1. Thanks for putting this together and correcting the mistakes, Steve. You've done a fantastic job. I would add 'Time and Tomorrow' to the list (perhaps without a #). I know it's just an omnibus, but it's a rather important sci-fi ombibus, one that introduced these early JDM stories to readers who otherwise would not have been exposed to them. It's not the same as some of those tacky Travis McGee omnibuses (omnibi?).

  2. As a demented list maker myself, I really do appreciate this list. Goodness knows I've been refining my list of JDM's SF stories a long time myself among others.

    1. I'm working with another Trap of Solid Gold reader on a much improved list. It should be ready soon.