Murder With Southern Hospitality:
An Exhibition of Mississippi Mysteries

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Neo-Noir in Mississippi

John D. MacDonald

The tradition of the “hard-boiled detective novel” emerged out of the hypocrisy of Prohibition and the hopelessness of the Depression. A new urban crime fighter, surrounded by thugs and gangsters, served as a commentator on murder, greed, and all the seven deadly sins. Not always a professional detective, the protagonist of the “hard-boiled” represented the point of view of different social classes and myriad occupations. Drawing on this classic tradition, the works of “neo-noir” on display change the “hard-boiled” amateur crime fighter into a more subtle antihero who questions the very nature of good and evil. Although scholars have characterized the work of authors such as John D. MacDonald and Elmore Leonard as “thrillers”, the term “neo noir” is more appropriate, since their fiction clearly evokes the tradition of the earlier classic detective story of the 1930s. Mississippi provides the perfect backdrop for these “neo-noir” interpretations of murder.

The forces of good and evil do battle against the backdrop of the blood red Mississippi gulf coast in one of John D. MacDonald’s lesser-known works, Barrier Island. Although best known for his Florida detective series featuring Travis McGee, MacDonald delivers his winning combination of sleaze, greed, shady characters, and womanizing in Barrier. Two men, Tucker Loomis and Wade Rowley come to terms with self-indulgence, extortion, and murder in the fictional Mississippi town of West Bay.

MacDonald began hi pulp fiction, writing over forty novels before finding success with his character Travis McGee. Mystery novel historian William L. DeAndrea describes MacDonald’s typical themes as “business gone bad—crooked deals, misused power and the like.” Barrier Island is no exception to this formula.

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