Showing posts with label Travis McGee. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Travis McGee. Show all posts

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Travis McGee #01 - The Deep Blue Good-by

Crime-fiction author John D. MacDonald began the Travis McGee series with three novels, including The Deep Blue Good-by, originally published in 1964 by the powerhouse publisher of the time, Fawcett Gold Medal. The novel introduces McGee as a salvage consultant that helps clients recover stolen funds. The deal is that if McGee can successfully make the recovery, he keeps a percentage plus additional funds to cover expenses accrued. MacDonald's niche is that McGee performs most of these jobs in and around the Floridian coast on his houseboat, the Busted Flush. I've enjoyed MacDonald and wanted to explore this popular character a little more. I'm starting with the “official” series debut, The Deep Blue Good-by.*

In the book's opening chapters, McGee's newest lady “friend” asks what he does for a living. McGee explains the nature of his business to her and soon gains a referral in the form of a young, voluptuous dancer named Cathy Kerr. McGee's new client is rather reserved and quiet, but explains that her father served in WW2 and had been sentenced to prison for killing another soldier. Prior to his capture, Cathy feels that her father buried something valuable in the building materials of his house in the Florida Keys, but it was stolen by a man named Junior Allen. Her father is now dead, the valuable thing is still missing and Cathy is dancing for peanuts. McGee explains the terms of the deal and becomes involved in an enthralling mystery.

The search leads McGee to Lois Atkinson, a woman who was abused and robbed by Junior Allen and left in a near-death state. McGee, with the aid of the good doctor, nurses Lois back to heath and learns even more about this dubious Mr. Allen. McGee and Lois eventually form an emotional bond that spills over into sex – Lois requiring security and McGee seemingly recovering from some ailments of the past (the series will later hint at his military career, lost loved ones, etc.). 

McGee embraces the mantle of the noble hero, bent on punishing Junior Allen for the atrocities he's committed and the young lives he's ruined. McGee's investigation is multifaceted - what is the valuable thing, how did Cathy's father obtain it, where is it now? The job combs a great swath of area from Florida to New York and points in between. The more McGee learns, the more vicious and terrifying Allen becomes. The inevitable confrontation leads to a boat chase and a spectacular fight scene on board.

Like James Bond, or any popular fictional hero, one can jump into numerous rabbit holes online to learn more about the character and the series (movies, color scheme, boat, etc.). We even covered the character on a podcast episode here, so there's a lot to explore if you are interested. I went into the novel thinking it would be a fun, sexy splash in the water with comparisons to a more violent Shell Scott. I couldn't have been further off. 

This was more like Lawrence Block's early Matthew Scudder novels, just a little more sexy. Junior Allen proved to be a calculated, sick psycho with a penchant for power grabs. McGee's clients are victims, some more scarred and disgruntled than others. I truly felt a sense of obligation to these victims, as if McGee was righting a personal wrong for me. The ending was an emotional roller coaster that left me gutted. The closing scenes with McGee and Cathy had such an impact, and set the tone for the character. He's the hard-boiled hero, but thankfully it's complex. 

Sexy, violent, captivating, and mysterious, The Deep Blue Good-by is a masterpiece that you need to read right now. Or, reread it again. There's an obvious reason for the fuss...Travis McGee is the real deal. 

* MacDonald authored the first three Travis McGee novels in quick succession and submitted all of them to the publisher at the same time. To my knowledge, no one really knows which was the very first.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Travis McGee #09 - Pale Gray for Guilt

The character of Travis McGee was the most successful creation of Florida crime fiction icon John D. MacDonald. The McGee series lasted for 21 installments from 1964 to 1984. Like most long-running series titles of that era, the earlier entries are known to be better than the later ones. MacDonald was smart cookie and wrote the books so they can be read in any order. Today, we’ll tackle the ninth McGee paperback, “Pale Gray for Guilt” from 1968.

McGee is a self-described beach bum living on a Florida houseboat called The Busted Flush named after the poker hand that won him the boat. To the extent that he works at all, he’s a “salvage consultant” who helps people find things they’ve lost - usually money or people - in exchange for a piece of the recovery. In practice, he functions as an unlicensed private eye (or “knight errant”) for friends and their referrals. In many of the books, McGee has a sidekick named Meyer, an underemployed economist and fellow armchair philosopher who often joins McGee on his escapades. That’s pretty much all you need to know to jump into the series at any point.

“Pale Gray for Guilt” opens with McGee going to visit a friend of his nicknamed Tush who owns a low-end motel and river marina with his wife Janine not far from the Bahia Mar marina where McGee resides on his own boat. Tush is having financial difficulties, and there’s a major land developer who wants Tush and Janine’s leveraged property. The evil corporation up the road is polluting the river and wants to dredge the waterway to make room for barges. However, these plans are contingent on Tush and Janine getting out of the way.

It’s important to understand that the environment and corporate development of Florida’s coastal waterways were major bugaboos for MacDonald. Many McGee books have the character pontificating about this issue, and it’s clear that McGee is speaking with MacDonald’s voice. Some of MacDonald’s stand-alone novels address this issue head-on, and “Pale Gray for Guilt” is the McGee paperback that makes corporate greed and land development the enemy of the righteous and the apparent motivation for murder.

As the foreclosure documents are being served upon Tush, his body is found at his marina dead from an apparent suicide. Upon learning this, McGee refuses to believe his friend would kill himself and sets out to find the killer and save the property for the distressed widow Janice. The legal and business machinations McGee employs to stymie the foreclosure are plenty clever. The author had an MBA and enjoyed strutting his business acumen for many storylines through this career as a fiction writer.

The problem with white collar crime stories involving land deals and stock price manipulation is that it can make for some dry and technical reading. The middle section of the novel has a lot of that, and if such things are uninteresting to you, there are 20 other McGee novels that aren’t as mired in business machinations.

Once he gets back to the actual murder investigation, the plot is materially more satisfying. The boots on the ground investigation into the causes and perpetrators of Tush’s death make for a fun mystery novel. McGee’s sidekick for this adventure is a plucky love interest named Puss (I know, I know) who adds some value to McGee’s fieldwork. His normal sidekick Meyer also gets a piece of the action in the paperback’s second half.

Under no circumstances should “Pale Gray for Guilt” be your introduction to the Travis McGee series. It’s just too slow to hook a new reader. However, if you are acclimated into McGee’s world and open to a financial crime murder adventure, you’ll probably enjoy this one just fine.

Buy a copy of this novel HERE

Monday, January 27, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 28

In the newest Paperback Warrior Podcast episode, we discuss John D. MacDonald's iconic Travis McGee character, including a review of the series' ninth installment, "Pale Shade for Guilt". We also evaluate the debut novel in Jon Messman's Handyman series, "The Moneta Papers", and have an impromptu look at Lawrence Block's Chip Harrison novels. Stream wherever fine podcasts are presented or stream below. Direct downloads are HERE. Listen to "Episode 28: Travis McGee" on Spreaker.