Picks and Pans Review: Barrier Island

updated 07/14/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/14/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by John D. MacDonald

Tough guy Tuck Loomis is about to make a real estate killing on one of the barrier islands off the coast of Mississippi. The government has decided that the place should be claimed by the National Park Service. So Loomis' scam is to convince the government that it owes him $8 million for the island, which is worth far less. In debating the issue with the Park Service, it doesn't hurt Loomis that he has managed to get almost everyone in the area beholden to him—except for Wade Rowley, a real estate man. Rowley, a most satisfactory hero, recognizes that a major swindle is about to take place. When Rowley goes to a Parks official with his suspicions, the man says, "We're in an endless war with the developers, a very critical and deadly war, and they don't even know they're in one. All they know is that if they are patient enough and generous enough and amiable enough, sooner or later they can pry some more fragile marshland from the politicians and take it away from the people forever." That little lecture sums up the moral of the story, and if the author is preaching a sermon, he's delivering it from the pulpit he knows best—a rousing, suspenseful murder novel with lots of richly imagined characters and surprises. Barrier Island Is a better book than MacDonald's Condominium, another digression from strict generic detective fiction. This time out, fans of MacDonald's Travis McGee novels won't miss the aging Mr. Fix-It or the Busted Flush at all. (Knopf, $16.95)

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