BARRIER ISLAND by John D. MacDonald
Kirkus Star


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The prolific, ever-readable John D. returns to the subject of unscrupulous land-development deals on the Gulf Coast; and this time he keeps things far leaner and sharper, without the emphasis on romantic/sentimental subplots that made Condominium a bit bland. . .and so widely popular. The oddly sympathetic villain here is yearning wheeler-dealer Tuck Loomis, a near-60 womanizer who has almost achieved the wealth and respectability of a full-fledged tycoon. All he needs is for one more big deal to come through: his Bernard Island scam. Loomis, you see, bought this island on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, began an elaborate (largely phony) development scheme, just waiting for the US Park Service to declare the land part of the National Seashore. And now Loomis is awaiting the trial that will determine how much the federal government will have to pay him for appropriating his land and mining his supposedly grand development-plan. While Loomis dispenses a few more bribes and gloats in anticipation, however, real-estate man Wade Rowley--whose firm handled the sales of Bernard Island plots for Loomis--realizes that many of those land-sales agreements were fraudulent. So, being a noble hero much like the one in Condominium, Wade turns his evidence over to a US attorney--despite the ragings of Wade's shady partner Bern Gibbs (a Loomis stooge). And when Loomis' desperate efforts at cover-up lead to the inadvertent murder of pathetic partner Bern, Wade does all he can to bring about Loomis' total downfall--with crucial help from one of Loomis' ex-girl. friends. MacDonald's ecology message is, again, rather heavily laid on. And one or two of the compressed subplots--e.g., the adolescent turmoil of Wade's teen-age son--seem extraneous. Overall, however, MacDonald fills out his essentially simple plot with just enough twists and just the right textures: the quirky pathos of the assorted, uncliched bad guys; the edgy touches that keep the supporting players (Wade's devoted wife, Bern's ambitious mistress) from becoming soap-opera types; the resonant ironies--like the fact that both mastermind Loomis and one of the sad bribe-takers are taking care of stroke-victim relatives. Slow to get started, tougher and darker and slighter than Condominium--but ultimately satisfying and quietly compelling.
Pub Date: June 16th, 1986
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1986


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