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Literature / The Way to Dusty Death

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"There's more than one way to a dusty death, Mary."

The Way to Dusty Death is a novel by Alistair MacLean.

Johnny Harlow is a popular Grand Prix Racer who has just crashed during a race. His best friend has been killed, and his sponsor's daughter has been crippled. In despair, Harlow descends into drinking his sorrows away as the whole world sees him as nothing more than a drunk murderer.

For a drunk Broken Ace, Harlow seems to be in complete control as he breaks into garages, steals documents and investigates the Grand Prix, all the while using his charm to get past his still remaining fans. Whoever rigged his car made him kill his best friend, and cripple his girlfriend. Johnny is out for revenge. But the gangsters aren't going to let him get it that easily.

Was made into a film.

Tropes used.

  • The Ace: Harlow.
  • Amateur Sleuth Mary's brother, as well as Harlow himself.
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  • Anti-Hero: Johnny isn't above using some underhanded means.
  • Broken Ace: Subverted, it's all an act, although the public view him as this.
  • Car Fu: Johnny uses this to knock the villains car off a cliff.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Johnny can see who is driving a car by the technique used, thanks to his experience as a Grand Prix racer, and can maneuver a car expertly, to the point where he pushes another car off a cliff.
  • Cool Car: Several. The Author had Shown Their Work.
  • Drives Like Crazy: Justified, as Harlow is a race car driver so is used to speeding and driving erratically. Doesn't stop his two passengers praying all the while and calling him insane.
  • Drowning My Sorrows
  • Drugs Are Bad
  • Femme Fatale: 'Florence Nightingale' an unnamed woman who works for the mafia and manages to sneak past police, with her good looks, and poison a prisoner.
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  • Good Is Not Nice: Harlow terrifies 3 Mafia gangsters with his ruthless calm demeanour, and is merciless against the bad guys he encounters, even going so far as to call them 'vermin' and below human standards.
  • Hero with Bad Publicity: Harlow, although it's self-induced.
  • It's Personal: They made him kill his best friend, and made him cripple his girlfriend. He is pissed, although you wouldn't know it.
  • Karmic Death: After making most of their money and business by killing drivers in car accidents, including the one at the beginning, the two main villains Jacobson and Tracchia get pushed off a cliff while in their car and die in a fireball.
  • Literary Allusion Title: From Macbeth, Act 5 Scene 5
    And all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death
  • Love Interest: Mary Macalpine.
  • The Mafia: Behind the race rigging, drug trafficking and murder.
  • Police are Useless: Played straight, then Subverted.
  • The Quiet One
  • The Rival: Nicholo Tracchia.
  • The Stoic: Even when driving his car around a cliff, where the slightest mistake could send him plummeting off, Harlow looks calm and focused.
  • Spanner in the Works: Harlow can't be bribed or made corrupt, so The Mafia try to have him killed.
  • Screw The Rules I'm Doing What's Right: Most of what Harlow does is breaking the law.
  • Would Hit a Girl: When Harlow meets the Femme Fatale of the book he pistol whips her, adding 'Never confuse that murdering bitch with a lady' to an astonished Rory MacAlpine.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness
  • You Killed My Father: The Mafia killed Harlow's brother in another race, although Harlow fights for more reasons than that.


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