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The Empty Copper Sea
John D. MacDonald
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The Empty Copper Sea (Travis McGee #17)

4.11  ·  Rating Details ·  2,645 Ratings  ·  62 Reviews
"The professional's professional of suspense writers."


Van Harder, once a hard drinker, has found religion. But that doesn't keep folks from saying he murdered his employer, Hub Lawless, whose body hasn't been found. To clear his name, and clear up the mystery, Van asks friend-in-need Travis McGee to find out what really happened. What McGee finds is that
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Published (first published January 1st 1978)
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Travis McGee bills himself as a salvage consultant, but this time out he’s trying to salvage someone’s reputation rather than their money.

McGee is approached by an old acquaintance named Van Harder who was held responsible for the death of his employer Hubbard Lawless. Supposedly Harder got drunk while skippering Lawless’s boat which indirectly led to Lawless being lost overboard. Harder is a born again straight arrow who left his hard drinking days behind him years ago, and he swears that he mu
May 13, 2016 Lyn rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Is Travis McGee, John D. MacDonald’s action / adventure / salvage expert / hero creation, the American James Bond?

Ian Fleming, Bond’s creator, was an English naval officer during the Second World War. John D. MacDonald was an Army officer during WWII.

Bond is a commander in the British Navy when he’s not spying and being cool; McGee’s military career is often hinted at or explicitly stated.

While Bond serves the Queen, American McGee is a loner “salvage consultant” who espouses libertarian ideals
Jul 24, 2014 Tony rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
THE EMPTY COPPER SEA. (1978). John D. MacDonald. ****.
An old friend of Travis, Van Harder, shows up at McGee’s dock. He needs a favor, though he is willing to pay $10,000 for it. Several years ago he had his seaman’s license taken away from him for negligence. When he was in charge of a yacht carrying a big-time investor and one of his associates – along with two women ride-alongs – he got drunk on board and was subsequently responsible for the investor falling (?) overboard and disappearing. Th
Lewis Weinstein
Feb 19, 2013 Lewis Weinstein rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction-general
I re-read this after quite a few years, and remembered little, which was good. Travis is far from perfect, but there is much that is good in his (and Meyer's) set of values, and these stories are a great contrast to the serious reading that takes most of my time.
Jun 28, 2015 wally rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: macdonald
21 jun 15
#50 from macdonald for me and the 17th travis mcgee story. just completed Turquoise Lament, a story in which mcgee violates one oath he espoused in an earlier story. alas.

onward, ever onward.

23 jun 15
finished. great story, good read! thought i read one review that suggested mcgee was not as involved in this one as others, that meyer did much of the work. wasn't this story if the review was about this one. but mcgee does show a range of emotions, up down sideways. approaching the end i
Some years back an old friend of mine, now sadly passed on, advised me: "The Travis McGee novels are all pretty much interchangeable--until you get to THE EMPTY COPPER SEA, when things really begin to shift." As I've been reading this series in order, slowly savoring each one, I admit I was looking forward to seeing what mysteries COPPER would hold.

On a narrative level, the differences are not significant, and in fact, in many ways, the plot of COPPER mirrors that of its predecessor, THE DREADFU
Perry Whitford
This is one of the later Travis McGee novels, the second one I have read, and it had a pretty decent plot with some well sketched support characters all effected, and in some cases implicated, when a small town tycoon goes missing, suspected drowned after falling off his own yacht.

McGee's old friend Van Harder, who was skippering the yacht at the time, is amongst those with an interest in changing the official story, so he hires the expert "salvage consultant" to save his reputation.

In this boo
I've been taking a break from the Travis McGee novels, but I missed the intrigue and unique brand of humor, so I pulled out the next in the series a few night ago.

I loved it!

Travis falls in love, again. He saves his friend's fortune and reputation, again. Meyer is always there, playing Robin to Travis' Batman. The ending took me completely by surprise. Of all the ways I thought it would end, this option wasn't even in my peripheral vision. Just... wow.

One of my favorite things about this install
Dec 30, 2009 Jim rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The book starts out flat, but has a different feel that the others in the series. First, Meyer leads the investigation. Second, no aliases or lying is used to get information. The usual number of women are bedded and there is some daring-do at the end, but McGee sufferes angst issues and is startingto feel useless and old,

The prose remains elegant and crisp with shades of the romantic.
Harv Griffin
Jan 12, 2013 Harv Griffin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: novelists who want to up their game
Shelves: reviewed, own
pic of Empty Copper Sea

"I turned my head and saw, beyond the shoulder of my beloved, the empty copper sea, hushed and waiting, as if the world had paused between breaths."

About Travis McGee novels: he usually gets in over his head. Then something snags his legs and pulls him twenty-five feet underwater, fast. Somehow, with super-human-something-or-other Trav breaks free. (Analogy). This is probably my least-favorite Travis McGee novel, even though it was made into a Sam Elliott movie. I saw the movie. It sucked. But I
Jan 13, 2015 Shuriu rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
large print edition

"I knew him real well, Mr. McGee, and in the last few years he seemed to me to be kind of … wistful. He was getting heavy and out of condition, and he smoked too much. He didn't have time to stay in shape. He didn't have time for much social life or home life, either. Nice home. Lovely wife and daughters. But he had chained himself to the table without realizing it. He knew, or had started to realize, that the rest of his life was going to be pretty much the same."
"One of tho
In a period of angst, Travis McGee pursues a "salvage job" for altruistic reasons - to restore the good name of his friend Van Harder. But to do so, he and Meyer must solve a mystery that everyone has been trying to solve for years - did Hub Lawless set up Van Harder, fake his own death to go hide in Mexico living on stolen money or is he actually dead. In the pursuit of the truth McGee, once again, ends up in the hospital and almost finds love. But then if McGee found a permanent relationship, ...more
Feb 17, 2014 Kit rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Another great novel in the Travis McGee series. I've read the whole series and own copies of about half - they're a good "return to" kind of book when I'm in-between reads.
Ray Charbonneau
Just going through the motions by this time.
William Crosby
Oct 28, 2016 William Crosby rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The writing has enough details to give atmosphere and flesh out characters without going on and on like an encyclopedia.

Realistic dialogues and characterizations.

The main character finds that being helpful and empathetic can be better at eliciting information than an interrogation. Still, sometimes fists are used.

Mostly an investigation. But, sometimes there was too much lovey-dovey stuff: these are parts I skimmed for relevancy.
Tim O'Neill
Oct 29, 2016 Tim O'Neill rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Another good Travis McGee novel mostly taking place in Timber Bay (fictional place? in Dixie County, Florida.
Dec 04, 2016 Sean rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of his best, if only because of a few passages. McGee the outsider can take time to return to our world and show use again and again how absurd it can be.
Pete Hoetjes
Feb 04, 2016 Pete Hoetjes rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Travis McGee Falls in Love

If I were to make a recommendation to the uninitiated as to what a prime example of the perfect Travis McGee novel might be, I have no doubt that The Empty Copper Sea would be it. John D. MacDonald crafted a page turner; a novel you cannot put down. Our damaged, introspective hero is approached by a man he knew a decade ago. A man who in his youth was a notorious drunk, but after getting into trouble, sobered up and made a life for himself captaining boats. However, tw
A. Bowdoin Van Riper
All the familiar elements are in play in this 17th installment of MacDonald’s long-running Travis McGee series. There’s a friend in need, a mystery to be solved, skeptical law enforcement officers, and supporting characters who are not what they seem. There are South Florida locales being despoiled by greedy developers, and opportunities for both Travis and his best friend Meyer to do what they do best. It goes without saying, for fans of the series and the genre, that justice will, with Travis ...more
Nov 29, 2013 Mr rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Number 17 in the Travis McGee series (1978) is not one of the great John D.’s best efforts. THE EMPTY COPPER SEA might as well be titled THE EMPTY COPPER MCGEE, because it finds our sun-tanned hero mired in a feeling of “bleakness.” As best friend Meyer complains, McGee is merely “going through the motions” and it makes him both “listless” and “vaguely predatory” (p110). Despite his ennui, the Bahia Mar salvage expert of last resort takes on the project of retrieving a born-again Lauderdale boat ...more
Michael O'Leary
Jan 24, 2013 Michael O'Leary rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is one of the later books in John MacDonald's Travis McGee series of 21 books. In this book Travis and Meyer go to a (fictional) town on Florida's West Coast where a local entrepreneur has vanished in an alleged drowning accident. The captain of the boat is a proud and decent guy who got wrongfully blamed for the accident and hires Travis to get his name cleared. Travis and Meyer haul out some fake documents and pass themselves off as real estate development types, all set to do big things ...more
Jun 29, 2014 Jure rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Not sure how to feel about this one. I was looking forward to read McGee book again and maybe this is a reason why I felt so disappointed and even cheated. Needed to remind myself that this was 17th of the series and that MacDonald was more than sixty years old when he wrote it. So let's not hold it too much against him. Maybe he simply got a bit bored with his hero and/or allowed his senile romantic fantasies about beautiful and perfect beach girls to creep into the story way more than they sho ...more
David Ward
The Empty Copper Sea (Travis McGee #17) by John D. MacDonald (Fawcett 1978)(Fiction-Mystery). Travis and Meyer spend time on Florida's West Coast where Travis is hired by an old friend who is a charter boat captain to clear his name following an accident in which a local entrepreneur was killed. The boys gin up some counterfeit documents and presto! They pass themselves off as real estate developers and uncover several levels of surprises. These novels are wonderfully written mysteries; they are ...more
Mackenzie Brown
Aug 08, 2016 Mackenzie Brown rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Travis McGee attempts to clear a good man's name and in doing so, learns more about the apparent disappearance of Hub Lawless, a local business who his friend was working for. It seems that his friend was captaining the man’s yacht and was found drunk at the wheel, when Lawless went crashing overboard.
McGee learns that his friend was administered a horse tranquiliser and then turns his attention to the whereabouts of Lawless and a cache of money. He meets the lovely Gretel, who expunges a depre
Amy Knarr
Oct 12, 2011 Amy Knarr rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I got this book from my church library. It's on the old side, but nothing is dated about it that I could see. It's a story of a leading citizen of a southern city that falls overboard into a dark sea one night. His body is never found.
However, folks start speculating that he actually lived and ran off to Mexico with his paramour, who has also mysteriously disappeared.
Our two main characters are not detectives (naturally!) but have come to town to clear the name of the captain of the boat, who is
Brandon Karcher
Jul 01, 2014 Brandon Karcher rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was my first foray into the world of Travis McGee as well as my first John D. MacDonald book. I enjoyed the story and the characters of McGee and his resourceful partner Meyer, as well as the author's skill at crafting a mystery. I bought two McGee books when I got this one, and after finishing 'Empty Copper Sea', I sought out more books by the author. Someone had unloaded a bunch of them at my local Goodwill (a great place for cheap paperbacks) and I bought all of them. I look forward to m ...more
Jan 30, 2012 Al rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Three and a half stars. Well-plotted, well-written and engrossing. Travis McGee is good, and he's also lucky, which is why he lasted so long, I guess. MacDonald's periodic riffs on human nature and problems of the modern world are an entertaining sidelight. I found the ending to be less than persuasive; that's unfortunate, because for the most part, the rest of the book seemed pretty authentic. All in all, more satisfying than some of the modern detective/action books I've been complaining abou ...more
Jul 08, 2015 Lynne rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery, fiction
Travis McGee takes his houseboat out to help old acquaintance Van who loses his master’s ticket, yacht berth, and livelihood for being drunk on duty when the yacht’s owner falls overboard and drowns. In the course of his investigation, McGee is nearly killed, meets the love of his life, and solves Van’s problem before taking the Busted Flush home for a happy ending. I had never read a Travis McGee novel before; I may read another one day. The story was ok, but I didn’t really feel invested in th ...more
Jan 20, 2008 Clint rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Travis McGee is one of my hero's...
This is a hard book to read in bed because the chapters are too long. There are 19 chapters in a 250 page book. Most of my reads these days closer to the Patterson style of 1.5 pages per chapter, and you can stop anytime you want, and at the end of a chapter. But with these 12-15 page chapters, i struggle to finish a chapter, drifting off mid-page, until I stop, then I have to figure out where I was when I start again. Oh well, just need to go to bed sooner, I
Raphael Livingston
I was 17 when I "came back" to Travis in 1978. I thought the books had improved immensely. (I bought it in hardback for heaven sake!) it was well worth the purchase then. Travis was perfect for a 13-year-old boy, but his patter was wearing thin by the time I was 17. I'm a little more forgiving today (56 years old) but I'm sad to say I don't believe the series aged well. If you really need some light reading, enjoy. Other than that, I'm afraid you can do a lot better.
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John D. MacDonald was born in Sharon, Pa, and educated at the Universities of Pennsylvania, Syracuse and Harvard, where he took an MBA in 1939. During WW2, he rose to the rank of Colonel, and while serving in the Army and in the Far East, sent a short story to his wife for sale, successfully. After the war, he decided to try writing for a year, to see if he could make a living. Over 500 short stor ...more
More about John D. MacDonald...

Other Books in the Series

Travis McGee (1 - 10 of 21 books)
  • The Deep Blue Good-By (Travis McGee #1)
  • Nightmare in Pink (Travis McGee, #2)
  • A Purple Place for Dying (Travis McGee #3)
  • The Quick Red Fox (Travis McGee #4)
  • A Deadly Shade of Gold (Travis McGee #5)
  • Bright Orange for the Shroud (Travis McGee #6)
  • Darker Than Amber (Travis McGee #7)
  • One Fearful Yellow Eye (Travis McGee #8)
  • Pale Gray for Guilt (Travis McGee #9)
  • The Girl in the Plain Brown Wrapper (Travis McGee #10)

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