Book Review: A Deadly Shade of Gold

Kunk Fu Zoby Kung Fu Zu1/3/18
By John D. MacDonald  •  Travis McGee, a self-proclaimed “Salvage Specialist”, receives a phone call from a long-lost friend, Sam, who needs help. Of course, McGee obliges and meets his friend in a seedy hotel. The friend’s story includes travels from Florida to the West and eventually to the Baja peninsula of Mexico. From the looks of things, Sam has had a hard time during his absence, but it has not all been for naught. He shows McGee a squat solid gold figurine for which there is a buyer. Once the sale is completed, Sam would like to go back to his old love Nora and live a normal life. He tells McGee the sale of the figurine will go through that night and after that all will be fine.

McGee leaves Sam to his transaction and returns to his own home, a 52 x 20 foot house boat named “Busted Flush”, appropriately won by McGee in a poker game. He plans to pick up Sam the next day, but someone has seen Sam at a bar and alerts his old flame, Nora. She confronts Travis and demands he take her to see Sam immediately. Although it is against his better instincts, he acquiesces and they drive down to Sam’s hotel. When they arrive, Travis knocks on the door, but there is no answer. He checks to see if the door is locked and he finds it open. Cautiously entering the room, he switches on light and there lies Sam with his throat cut. The figurine has disappeared.

So starts John D. MacDonald’s A Deadly Shade of Gold, one his many “color” Travis McGee thriller novels. It is a story in which Travis will take the reader from Florida, to California and Mexico and back to Florida.

This is the first book I have read by MacDonald and I am pleasantly impressed. It was so good that once I started, I found it hard to put the book down. In one several-hour sitting I read 200 pages. The man could write.

McGee is one in a long line of heroic types readers find in twentieth-century American fiction. He is something of a loner, but likes the company of a few friends and a number of nubile females.  He is not a traditional detective, rather he is a type of option-of-last-resort for those who cannot afford to rely on the law or expect a private-eye to solve their problems. Since this is the case, his fees are high; 50% of whatever is “salvaged.”

McGee’s home base is a Fort Lauderdale pier. A good friend, Meyer, lives at the same pier on another boat named “John Maynard Keynes.” As one would expect, Meyer is a world-renowned economist.

Since I have read several of Lawrence Sanders’ Archy McNally mysteries, which take place in Palm Beach, Florida, I couldn’t help but compare the two writing styles and protagonists.

Although they are both involved in solving mysteries and righting wrongs, McGee and McNally are very different characters.  The mood of MacDonald’s book is a much darker and more serious than that of the McNally books. I think the reader will immediately understand the difference when I use a James Bond analogy.  McGee is Sean Connery and McNally is Rodger Moore. McNally plays the game tongue-in-check. McGee doesn’t. Travis McGee can be a violent character. This is something McNally avoids. And while intelligent, McGee does not make a lot of literary allusions or use many words like, prolix.

That being said, McGee does make very perceptive observations about his surroundings and the general state of humanity. For example, I think his below comment is very sharp.

“Newsmen have a very short attention span. It is a prerequisite in the business. That is why the news account of almost anything makes sense to all ages up to the age of twelve. If one wishes to enjoy newspapers, it is wise to halt all intellectual development right at that age. The schools are doing their level best to achieve this goal. For the first time in history it is possible to earn doctorates in obscure professional techniques without upsetting the standard of a twelve year old basic intellect.”

This was written in 1965, and things have only gotten worse.

Unfortunately, my local lending library does not have a copy of The Deep-Blue Goodbye, the first McGee novel. I would like to read it. However, the library does have a couple of different colors on their shelves, so I will check them out and further enjoy the multifarious travails of Travis McGee.


Kung Fu Zu is a conservative prognosticator who has traveled widely and lived outside the United States. He takes his tea shaken, not stirred. • (107 views)

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16 Responses to Book Review: A Deadly Shade of Gold

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    They have a whole bunch of those books in the series at my online lending library. I checked out “Dress Her in Indigo.” Others in the series were available (put “Gold” on hold) but this was the earliest (#11) in the series I could find.

    Hard to believe that quote was from 1965.

  2. Timothy Lane says:

    I have most or all of the Travis McGee books in my house, which makes them no longer available to us. I read some of them, but I don’t recall which. Although MacDonald was generally a liberal, he obviously shared the conservative disregard for education and journalism (or at least Travis McGee did, and it’s hard to believe he didn’t reflect the author’s view as well.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      I have most or all of the Travis McGee books in my house, which makes them no longer available to us.

      If you ever want help, Timothy, in setting things up so that you can access your nearest online library, I’d be glad to help. First, I think you need a library card, for sure. You might be able to get that online or via the phone. Then you need the app, Libby, for checking out and reading the books. When I checked last night, my local library had about a dozen John D. MacDonald books listed there. Most were already checked out but about three were available. I put a hold on the book that Mr. Kung has reviewed.

      This process is easy and works very well. Let us know if you need any help. I’m sure Mr. Kung could bring some insights to this as well.

  3. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    I started a second Travis McGee by John MacDonald last night, and early in the book, MacDonald writes the following exchange between McGee and his friend Meyer. This touches upon a subject we at ST often discuss;

    A man with no trace of the feminine in him, with no duality at all, is a man without tenderness, sympathy, gentleness, kindness, responsiveness. He is brute-mean, a hammer, a fist. McGee, what is a woman with no trace of the masculine in her makeup?

    Mmmm. Merciless in a different way?

    You show promise, McGee. The empathy of kindness is a result of the duality, not the feminine trace.

    This exchange is in reference to a very beautiful and nasty piece of work who appears to be at the center of a evil con.

    The book is titled, “Bright Orange for the Shroud.”

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      A good passage, Mr. Kung. From my limited, and yet hopefully not irrelevant, perspective, many men (especially Christians) began examining the yin/yang of the masculine/feminine parts that are in all us — all us guys, anyway — about 30 to 40 years ago. I read a couple small books in this regard years ago as well.

      My general impression now is that such efforts were completely and totally about men reshaping themselves to be more like women with nary an expectation of the reverse.

      Being men — some of us quite worldly men — we know that it is not coincidence, for example, that some of the most creative art is produced by men who, shall we say, have a quite active female part of themselves activated…even to the point of being homosexual or at least bisexual.

      And that’s not to say the real art is in being female. Not at all. It’s the wide view, the integration of various elements, that makes for good art. We see the horrible art produced by Progressives, for example, because their view is so narrow.

      Sorry if this makes anyone cry, but men have long dominated the arts and not just because women were excluded. Being a man is somewhat like being a conservative. You don’t have to tell us what liberalism is about because we know it better than liberals do who have no idea of the goldfish bowl they are swimming in.

      The same thing with men. We know women because we have to know them. We cannot be passive about such things. We are required to figure them out, if only to satisfy our own selfish desires. Also, either because of this or along with this, I think men far exceed women in their ability for introspection. So, to some extent, it’s normal and expected for men to examine that part of themselves that we might call “feminine.” I have serious doubts if the reverse occurs in great quantity other than women jumping right past examining the male parts of themselves and simply jumping right to aping males traits (such as sexual promiscuity). Does anyone see women in our culture actually openly examining their strengths and weaknesses? No. It’s like asking blacks to examine their problematic relationship with crime, drugs, single-parenthood, and welfarism.

      It is the thesis of any reasonable man that women bring a much-needed domestication to men. Men, left to their own devices, tend toward conflict and destruction. We are often nothing but little monsters until civilization is figuratively beaten into us. Men can be little more than bandits otherwise. Women — especially including the raising of children — bring a vital purpose to a man’s life. You can’t generally raise successful children if you’re going to live the life of a bandit, if chaos, rather than order, is the ruling dimension.

      We conservatives thus understand the social destruction wrought by those who both denigrate men and the family, as well as the behaviors and ideas that tend to tear them apart. “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle” is the battle cry of beta-males such as Bono and man-haters such as Gloria Steinem.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      I finished “Bright Orange for the Shroud” last night and can say that it is almost as good as “A Deadly Shade of Gold.”

      There are a couple of points where the story-flow from one chapter to the next is not as smooth as one might wish, but this fault doesn’t ruin the book.

      One advantage this book might have for some readers is that it is about 320 pages long which is almost 100 pages shorter than “A Deadly Shade of Gold.”

      Interestingly, in this book, some skirts chase Travis, but he doesn’t chase them.

      As in “A Deadly Shade of Gold”, MacDonald makes plenty of astute observations about human nature. This is something I like about well written detective/mystery stories. Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler were also great students of human nature.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      A man with no trace of the feminine in him, with no duality at all, is a man without tenderness, sympathy, gentleness, kindness, responsiveness. He is brute-mean, a hammer, a fist.

      The book also contains the type of male which is described in the above quote. A truly vile character, who at first, is only a secondary figure, but as the book goes on, he becomes the main/true villain.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        It’s interesting that there appear, from various news accounts (hopefully not fake news), to be increasing incidents of men sitting passively by, unwilling to play the knight in shining armor and protect ladies in distress.

        We’ve taught a couple generations of males that all their in-built heroic qualities are bad (strength, courage, confrontation, moral judgment, toughness). There’s not even an attempt, as far as I can see from afar, to teach men how to use these traits for good purposes. They’re not taught balance regarding “duality.” They’re just expected to be more like women and jettison their own traits. And so you get this result where men increasingly will not come to the aid of women in distress.

        The Muslim monsters in Europe surely already know this and are counting on it.

        Looking forward to reading one of MacDonald’s books soon. I’ve finished “The Blackthorn Key” and that’s next in my Libby app.

  4. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    I finished “Free Fall in Crimson” over the weekend, which is the 18th or 19th book in the Travis McGee series. While it is readable, it is not as good as the earlier McGee novels which I have read.

    The book is about 230-240 pages long, which is shorter than the previous books, but it is longer than it need be. One has the feeling that MacDonald had to churn out a minimum number of pages for his publishers, else it would not be worth printing.

    I think the author could have easily edited the book down to about 200 pages, without sacrificing anything.

    That being said, the book is still full of action and a good story. McGee is clearly getting older, but he can still take care of himself.

    One thing that hasn’t changed is that being in close proximity to McGee is very unhealthy, regardless one is friend or foe.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      I think the early Destroyer books were 200 pages or less. As standard novel sizes got larger, so did these. Fortunately, they remained very readable satires.

      In The End of the Game, the villain is an expert hacker, though the term wasn’t in use at the time. At one point, he starts printing out all the British agents in the pay of the Soviets, and finds so many that he stops it and prints out all the agents not in Soviet pay. There turn out to be 3, one of whom is involved in the book.

      On another occasion, he launches all the Soviet nuclear missiles — but none of them actually launch. The Soviet leadership is worried about what to do. Should they leave them useless, or should they get to work repairing them and make it likelier the US would find out? So they hire a bunch of Japanese engineers, who get things done quickly so they can go back home to take part in the Hiroshima commemoration.

      • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

        I have noticed that over the last 50 years or so, the length of the standard light novel has grown from about 200 to about 300, and sometimes they grow to 4-500 pages.

        I have also found that most of the extremely long novels would lose nothing with some good editing.

        One of the few series which I wish had been longer is the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy by Tolkien. I even read the notes at the back of the book which are very interesting.

        One author who could write both long and short books was James Clavell. “King Rat” was fairly short, but “Shogun”, “Taipan” and “Noble House” were all pretty thick. I liked “Shogun” the best.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          I also read the various “non-fiction” parts of The Lord of the Rings, both from The Fellowship of the Ring and The Return of the King. These were naturals for someone with my interest in history. This is also why I read the various historical endnotes in the Flashman books as well as in my editions of The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketters and its four sequels.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      It’s easy to criticize these writers. I do it all the time. And there’s nothing wrong with pointing out their strengths and weaknesses. Mr. Kung, along with myself, is always sure to be ebullient in his praise where praise is due.

      I wonder if we could gain a new perspective on the writing art by having an official StubbornThings Seminar whereby we submitted short fictional stories.

      A quick Googling shows that a short story is typically under 7500 words. I was thinking of 3000 words or so. Just enough for a pastiche of the form. It would give us a taste for the chore.

      I see three problems with this idea:

      1) Few would sign up for it

      2) Fear of criticism would cause most of #1

      3) Having to do actual work would contribute to the #1 effect as well.

      A short short story is just enough for a weird Twilight-Zone episode-ish thing if you wanted to. Or a quick portrait of some moment. Start small and work our way up. This would truly be a “writer’s workshop” sort of thing. Let me know what you all think.

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