Frank Loose recommended this book to me, and I’m glad he did. I’d never heard of it and probably wouldn’t have if he hadn’t read it first and liked it. As far as I know, it’s the author’s only crime novel, although he wrote a few other novels about the advertising business. Jack Dillon was a successful ad executive, responsible for, among others, the series of TV commercials for Polaroid that featured James Garner and Mariette Hartley. Those of you of a certain age are bound to remember those commercials, since Garner was so affable and charming and Hartley was, well, so beautiful. Still is, for that matter.
But to get back to A GREAT DAY FOR DYING. Don’t pay any attention to that Hemingway comparison on the cover. The only similarity I see is that the protagonist of this novel, Jimmy O’Niel, reminded me a little of Harry Morgan from TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT. Jimmy is a friend and former associate of mobster Red Christian, but he’s trying to live a respectable life and start a charter boat business in Puerto Rico. People don’t want to believe that he’s no longer involved in anything crooked, though, but the only shady thing Jimmy’s mixed up in is running guns to anti-Castro revolutionaries in Cuba.
Unfortunately for Jimmy, he gets drawn into one of his former boss’s schemes and winds up on the wrong side of the Syndicate. From there, things just get worse for Jimmy, up to and including several murders and a hurricane.
The clipped style of the prose and the realistic dialogue remind me more of Elmore Leonard, although Leonard started writing crime novels about the same time as this book came out, so I don’t think his work was any influence on Dillon. A GREAT DAY FOR DYING also reminds me a little of a James Patterson novel, because the chapters are short and there’s a mixture of first person chapters from Jimmy’s point of view and third person chapters featuring other characters. That’s a technique I normally don’t care for, but Dillon makes it work fairly well. I don’t know if he was the first to do it, probably not, but this novel surely has to be one of the early examples of it. The pace is fast, even though there’s really not a lot of action except for an occasional short burst, and there are a lot of good lines.
A GREAT DAY FOR DYING is a fine book, worth seeking out, and it’s certainly good enough to make it a shame Jack Dillon didn’t write any other crime novels. Recommended.