Whoa! The End of the Night by John D. MacDonald grabbed me from the first page and didn’t let go until the last of its 219 pages. What makes that so amazing is, I knew how the story ended from page one. Plus, this book was published in 1960 yet it felt totally relevant to 2010. I’m in awe. And talk about prolific…MacDonald wrote over 500 short stories and 78 books in 40 years! Man, how inspirational is that?
Here’s the blurb from the back cover:
“WHO WERE THEY? WHERE DID THEY COME FROM?
WHY DID THEY DO IT? WHO WERE THEIR VICTIMS?
Four drug-crazed young sadists–a world of damage. Driven by random, violent lusts they could barely articulate and understand, they embarked on a cross-country terror spree that left a trail of victims in its wake. The line between mischief and madness is a thin one–a trap that waits for innocent and helpless strangers…”
From the perspective of a reader who loves true crime, crime thrillers, and even a few mysteries, The End of the Night not only satisfied my hunger but whet my appetite for more. The first five pages told me the end of the story but knowing the outcome only made me want the whole story. I had tons of questions so I turned the page to uncover the answers.
What MacDonald did so skillfully with this book was dig deeper than any crime thriller I’ve read to date. He brought up issues and questions and dilemmas I think about all the time. How many have not questioned the seeming randomness of tragic events? Asked why those events happened? Or asked how someone became a “monster” capable of such acts of pure “evil”? I daresay very few because humans by nature want everything to make sense. For there to be an easily explained motive. Eww! Lots to mull over.
Excuse me while I gush a bit and share a few passages that really made my wheels kick into overdrive. The first two are from the defense attorney’s memorandum in reference to Kirby Stassen’s parents who are unable to accept their son’s involvement in the terrible crimes of which he’s accused.
All their lives, they have been conscious of a great gulf between the mass of decent folk and that sick, savage, dangerous minority known as criminals. Thus they cannot comprehend that their son…has leaped the unbridgeable gulf (p. 9).
Their error lies in their inability to see how easy it is to step across that gulf. Perhaps, in maturity, when ethical patterns are firmly established, one cannot cross that gulf. But in youth, in the traditional years of rebellion, it is not a gulf. It is an imperceptible scratch in the dust. To the youth it is arbitrary and meaningless. To society it is a life and death division (p. 9).
How right on are those? I mean, when we’re young, how many of us truly comprehend the big picture? The long arm of consequences? Don’t many teenagers operate within the parameters of a “Nothing’s gonna happen to me!” mentality? Hmm, something to think about.
This next quote is from Kirby Stassen’s diary in which he contemplates his immortality.
Isn’t three hundred years a vast span of time? It is one ten millionth of the estimated life span of the planet to date. Or it is the same ratio as is three seconds to one full year. And on the same scale, my life span has been one quarter of one second (p. 135).
That is one of the best examinations of time I’ve come across in fiction. To me, it really spotlights how little we have on Earth and how much is often spent on menial or trivial tasks. Reading Kirby’s thoughts on time and mortality also reminded me how insignificant our lives can be if we do nothing substantial with our time.
Now, from an ever-evolving and constantly learning writer’s perspective – I wanna do what he did. I loved, loved, loved the way he used multiple points-of-view and even a letter, which is the first five pages of the book, to tell the story in reverse chronological order. However, the last chapter did move forward in time to give me a bit more closure. MacDonald’s descriptions and characters were so vivid…they seduced me into turning the page and the next and the next until I’d finished the book in one sitting. No info dumps in sight, yay! And even knowing how the story ended didn’t keep me from hoping things might turn out differently.
Honestly, I can’t wait to read this book again and dissect it for all its tools of the trade from a master storyteller.
One of the book’s themes centered around mind-altering drugs. Do you believe criminals who commit felonious acts under the influence are any less responsible for those crimes?