A Key to the Suite is a novel by American author John D. MacDonald first published in 1962 by Fawcett Publications.
The third-person, subjective narrative is about a business executive, Floyd Hubbard, in attendance at a meeting in order to help the company determine the future employment of Jesse Mulaney, upper management in the sales department. During the course of the novel, Hubbard moves from reluctant hatchet man to hard-hearted corporate executive. As the back cover explains, the novel “examines the ferment of a big-time convention—the plots, the savage maneuverings, the dreadful ease with which a man or a dream can be destroyed.”
We are introduced to Floyd Hubbard as his flight descends toward an airport in an unnamed, sunny and hot East coast beach city. Hubbard will be attending a convention as a representative of American General Machine (AGM).
Fred “Freddy” Frick, local Assistant District Manager, is aware of Hubbard’s true reason for attending the convention. Frick decides to set up Hubbard in the hope that it will soften his report to the corporate office, and protect his job. Frick meets with Cory Barlund, a prostitute, and together they decide the best way to get to Hubbard would be for her to pose as a freelance writer doing a story on local conventions. She will seduce Hubbard, then “make some horribly slutty embarrassing scene in front of all the people he most wants not to know about his sneaky little romance,” and this, Frick hopes, will be enough to send Hubbard back to the corporate headquarters with his tail between his legs.
Later, Hubbard circulates at the company hospitality suite and is introduced to Cory. Through many cocktail conversations, we learn that Hubbard is well-read, considerate, and uneasy with his administrative duties within the corporation, preferring to be the metallurgist he had been before. At dinner in the banquet hall, he spots Cory who appears to be fighting off the advances of various men from all sides. Eventually he rescues her, and they leave, exchanging stories about their lives. Hubbard is happily married with children, Cory is divorced, has one child “defective, institutionalized,” has money, and lives alone, “and [tries] to like it.” Before the night is over they kiss and the evening ends abruptly, Cory feigning guilt, Hubbard suffering the real thing.
Cory does not want to go through with the plan to blackmail Hubbard, but is convinced by Alma, her madame, that she not only is having the same second-thoughts she usually does, but that she “wouldn’t want to have to send Ernie around to straighten [her] out again.” The threat works, and we see Cory for the first time not in control of her circumstances. She assures Alma she will go through with the plan.
Back at the convention, Cory convinces Hubbard she needs to change some film for her camera in his room, and there she seduces him. Afterward, Cory is cruel to Hubbard, about his wife and about his fall from grace. Though Hubbard doesn’t know this, she had thought that he was different than other men and would not succumb to her charms. After they argue, she leaves, assuring him he’ll come back for more. The next day, she taunts Hubbard at a convention party at the pool, and he rebuffs her advances.
Later that evening, Hubbard returns to his room and finds Cory there, nude and in his shower. He rebuffs her again, and now Cory softens. She tells Hubbard about Frick’s plan to employ “soft blackmail” to keep his reports positive, and explains what happened in her life to lead her to what she has become today. Hubbard leaves Cory in his room and proceeds to get visibly drunk among the rest of the conventioneers. Cory drifts off to sleep in Hubbard’s bed.
Meanwhile, one of the men Cory had rejected earlier, Dave Daniels, has gotten very drunk and extracted Hubbard’s room key from him by force. Hubbard, drunk himself, passes out in a hallway. In Hubbard’s room, Daniels finds Cory, rapes and kills her. After sobering up some, he sets it up to look like she fell in the shower and attempts to make his escape via the balcony. He slips and falls eight stories to his death.
Because the hotel is such a large part of the local economy, and because the police are unsympathetic to “one dead flooze” they decide to call both deaths accidental and unconnected. All involved are cleared of any wrongdoing. Later, Hubbard makes his report over the phone to the corporate honchos while Jesse Mulaney sits in the room listening. Mulaney has got to go, he’s “too limited for the job.” Mulaney accuses Hubbard of enjoying his job as hatchet man, and Hubbard suspects he might be right.
On his flight home, Hubbard dreams of Cory pulling his heart from his chest, and despite his protestations to the contrary, he knows he has already lost it.1962, Fawcett Gold Medal, paperback, ISBN 0-449-01198-4 / 978-0-449-01198-0 (USA edition)
1968, Hale, other edition, ISBN 0-7091-0393-X / 978-0-7091-0393-6 (UK edition)
1969, August, paperback, ISBN 0-340-04316-4 / 978-0-340-04316-5 (UK edition)
1976, May, Fawcett, paperback, ISBN 0-449-13545-4 / 978-0-449-13545-7 (USA edition)
1977, July, Littlehampton Book Services Ltd, paperback, ISBN 0-417-01840-1 / 978-0-417-01840-9 (UK edition)
1981, February, Fawcett, paperback, ISBN 0-449-13995-6 / 978-0-449-13995-0 (USA edition)
1985, July, Fawcett, paperback, ISBN 0-449-12940-3 / 978-0-449-12940-1 (USA edition)
1989, Mysterious Press, hardback, ISBN 0-89296-393-X / 978-0-89296-393-5 (USA edition)
1990, Fawcett Books, paperback, ISBN 0-449-44876-2 / 978-0-449-44876-2 (USA edition)
1991, Random House Value Publishing, hardback, ISBN 0-517-07440-0 / 978-0-517-07440-4 (USA edition)