by Kung Fu Zu 1/3/18
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.