Read again on 7/8/09. I've started going back through the Travis McGee books off and on in-order since last winter. I still enjoyed the first few, and...moreRead again on 7/8/09. I've started going back through the Travis McGee books off and on in-order since last winter. I still enjoyed the first few, and was amazed at how McGee's cynical '60s worldview was still applicable to 2009. Since it's been so long, I've forgotten a lot of the plots and supporting characters so the books are new to me again in some ways, but it's weird how some lines or scenes were still very clear to me. A Deadly Shade of Gold has actually been the one that impressed me the most so far with it's plot of McGee running a scam to avenge a friend, but of course, ending up with a lot of physical injuries and emotional regrets.
MacDonald's portrayals of women seem very dated and even hysterical at times. Kind of like Mad Men without the irony. And McGee takes himself far too seriously. But these are still first rate crime stories, and MacDonald was way ahead of his time in some ways. McGee brooded about things like consumerism, privacy concerns (in an era where computer databases were just starting), and the ecological damage being done to Florida in the name of 'progress'. I think a lot crime fans may not realize how influential MacDonald and McGee were on the modern mystery novel, and it's been interesting reading them from the perspective of 40 years after they were written.
We were about to give up and call it a night when somebody dropped the girl off the bridge.
You don’t get a much better opening line to a crime novel t...moreWe were about to give up and call it a night when somebody dropped the girl off the bridge.
You don’t get a much better opening line to a crime novel than that.
Travis McGee, the Florida boat bum and ‘salvage consultant’ who specializes in recovering money or items conned from people is just trying to do a little fishing under a bridge with his best friend Meyer when someone drops a girl wired to a cement bock into the water in front of them. Thanks to some underwater heroics from McGee, they manage to save the girl from drowning, but he’s a little disappointed to realize he risked his life to save a chatty hooker who was part of a particularly nasty little ring of con artists and thieves that have been setting up well-to-do men, robbing and murdering them. McGee gets sucked into the drama and tries to come up with way to shut down their operation and make a little profit for himself.
One of the really dated parts of this series is McGee’s view and treatment of women, and since this one deals with prostitution and female hustlers, we get more cave man comments than usual. Other than that, it’s pretty typical of the series with the brooding McGee trying to outwit a bunch of lowlifes and cooking up a pretty elaborate scam to do it. (less)
I know it’s the old Sea Cock Travis McGee we’re talking about here, but this is a whole new low….
Hang on. We all know that I’m going to do ano...moreReally?
I know it’s the old Sea Cock Travis McGee we’re talking about here, but this is a whole new low….
Hang on. We all know that I’m going to do another rant about the sexism, but let’s change things up and talk about the good parts first.
Carrie Milligan is an old friend of McGee’s who shows up very late one night at his houseboat and asks if he’ll hold a large sum of money for her. If she doesn’t come back and get it by a certain date, Travis should hand the cash over to her sister, and he gets ten grand for his trouble. McGee agrees and stashes the cash, and Carrie departs. Before her deadline McGee gets the news that she was killed after being hit by a car in another Florida town. Suspecting that something is going on and feeling that he owes her something more for the ten thousand, Travis and his best friend Meyer take his houseboat to Bayside and start poking around. However, they’ve walked into the middle of a scheme with an increasing body count.
This is one of the best plots in a McGee novel yet. Puzzling out where Carrie got the money and if her death was the result of foul play involves McGee running a variety of small cons on people to get them talking, and it allows the book to indulge in one of the best aspects of the series, conversations between McGee and Meyer. There’s a vivid discourse by Meyer at one point about learning the true nature of death and guns that has stuck with me in the 20-some years since I first read it. There’s also a couple of very good action scenes.
Plus, after being something of a know-it-all bore in his observations in the last couple of books, Travis is back to fine form in his cynical musings about American life and society. Here’s a bit where he’s describing the town:
"It was easy to see the shape and history of Bayside, Florida. There had been a little town on the bay shore, a few hundred people, a sleepy downtown with live oaks and Spanish moss. Then International Amalgamated Development had moved in, bought a couple of thousand acres, and put in shopping centers, town houses, condominiums, and rental apartments, just south of town. Next had arrived Consolidated Construction Enterprises and done the same thing north of town. Smaller operators had done the same things on a smaller scale west of town. When downtown decayed, the town fathers widened the streets and cut down the shade trees in an attempt to look just like a shopping center. It didn't work. It never does. This was instant Florida, tacky and stifling and full of ugly and spurious energies. They had every chain food-service outfit known to man, interspersed with used-car lots and furniture stores."
This is what a Travis McGee book reads like when it’s firing on all cylinders. So this should be an easy example of a fast-n-fun crime novel in a series that would be an easy 4 stars.
As usual, we got to talk about McGee and the ladies. For example, Carrie trusts Travis because he once saved her from being raped at a party, and that’s certainly understandable. But of course the ole Sea Cock nails her right after that. OK, it’s not quite that bad, and Travis does note that it’s highly unusual that a woman would be aroused right after being attacked. Besides, he’s Travis McGee! What lady could resist his charms even in those circumstances?
There are also two separate incidents of women being hit in front of Travis in this book, and he doesn’t seem that upset about it. In the first one after witnessing a drunk man deck his wife, Travis does fight the guy, but he makes it clear that he’s really just trying to get away from him. After the cops show up he follows her lead in not asking that charges be filed because that's always the best play in domestic abuse. Then a sleazy lawyer pimp-slaps an annoying woman and knocks her to the floor right in front of Travis, and while McGee doesn’t like it, he doesn’t bang the guy’s head off a wall or call the cops either. Yeah, yeah. I know. Simpler times. When a female just had to expect to take a really solid shot to the mouth every once in a while.
There’s a nice patronizing piece of Letting-The-Man-Take-Charge-Here-Little-Lady when Travis steps in at the funeral home when Cindy’s sister is getting screwed over on the bill. That could have been played as him looking out for her because she’s just so overcome with grief, but Travis and the funeral director have to go in the other room without her because obviously it’s man talk. Travis does include her finally to prove she isn’t some simpering little fool who will pay anything because she’s falling apart. Then she immediately falls apart after the funeral director leaves. There, there, little girl. Don’t worry. Daddy Travis is here to take care of everything.
Speaking of Cindy’s sister Susan, although McGee is protective enough to haggle over a bill for her, he neglects to inform her that he’s learned that a male character she’s interacting with is a ruthless pursuer of sexual conquests and his behavior has been reported as borderline rapey. Way to look out for the sister of your dead friend, McGee. (view spoiler)[And of course after Susan ‘gives in’ to this guy McGee is right there to take charge again, but that doesn't include calling the cops or getting her any kind of help. (hide spoiler)]
Worst of all is that McGee pulls one of his slimiest moves yet when he puts the moves on a woman who was widowed like a week before. Yeah, she admits she didn’t love her husband, and it seems a bit too soon, but hey, it’s the Sea Cock so the two are banging in no time. Unfortunately, she breaks into a crying jag at the beginning of their first session which is a total bummer, and when she finally stops Travis is worried that she might be ‘too tired for love’. That doesn’t stop him from peeling her clothes off, and guess what? She wasn’t! The Sea Cock scores again!
Then Travis is offended at several points when he feels like she isn’t reciprocating his lovey-dovey feelings strongly enough. He also acts like a petulant child when he asks if she’ll go on one of his long houseboat cruises and she tells that she not only needs to work, that she likes to work and doesn’t think taking off with a shady guy she doesn’t know that well would be the best life choice. Plus, that dead husband isn’t even cold yet. In Travis's view this is the wrong decision.
I was hoping this kind of stuff would get better as the books moved into the ‘70s and ‘80s, but I think it’s getting worse. Still, I really did like the other aspects so I’ll split the difference and call it 3 stars.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
If you were a rich widow who was dying from cancer and one of your two daughters, who had been stable and happily married for years, suddenly and myst...moreIf you were a rich widow who was dying from cancer and one of your two daughters, who had been stable and happily married for years, suddenly and mysteriously went bat shit crazy including memory loss and suicide attempts, would you:
A) Pour all your money and remaining time into medical and psychological doctors to try and help while also setting up a safe and protected environment for her?
B) Contact a shady stranger who you had a romantic fling with after your husband died and beg him to help her?
Most people would probably pick option A, but I guess it would have been a pretty short book if the widow hadn't chosen option B.
Travis McGee, the self-proclaimed salvage expert who specializes in getting back money and goods taken through scams, returns after spending weeks out on his boat and finds a letter from Helena, a woman he had helped years before and had a brief romance with. Helena is dying and asks Travis to check on her daughter Maureen who has gone completely nuts. Travis learns that Helena died before he got the letter, and even though he doubts there is anything he can do, he travels to see Maureen who is being cared for by her husband and sister.
After visiting Maureen and talking with her family, Travis thinks she is being cared for as well as possible and is about to leave town. Before he can go, he gets sucked into a murder investigation of one of Maureen’s doctors. Does the murder have something to do with Maureen’s current condition?
As always, you get an interesting character with McGee, and the mystery is intriguing, if a bit wonky. Unfortunately, the inherent sexism of these books written in the ‘60s is pretty awful. But this one is actually a bit better than the previous ones. Yes, every woman in the story is willing to submit to McGee’s wily charms at the drop of a hat, and none of them seem to have a problem that can’t be fixed with McGee’s patented brand of sexual healing. However, they seem a little less like scatter brained props and more like actual characters this time.(less)
Travis McGee is a Florida boat bum who finances his extended vacations by trying to get back money that has been conned or stolen from people who can’...moreTravis McGee is a Florida boat bum who finances his extended vacations by trying to get back money that has been conned or stolen from people who can’t use legal means to try and recover it. His old buddy ‘Tush’ (1968 Winner For Worst Nickname) Bannon owns a small marina and hotel, but his land stands in the way of some crooked developers, and they’re using their influence with local politicians to squeeze him out. Tush refuses to sell and turns up dead on what is ruled a very messy suicide. An angry McGee decides to get revenge by swindling the developers with a complicated stock scheme, and this will also allow him to get a nest egg for Tush’s family in the process.
I’ve written before about the good, the bad and the ugly of the Travis McGee series in other reviews like One Fearful Yellow Eye, and this one is a pretty typical example of the series. The good is that MacDonald was a better than average writer, and he delivered offbeat crime stories with McGee being a kind of combination private detective and con man. The bad is that McGee can sometimes be a narcissistic bore, but at least he usually realizes that he’s essentially an overgrown child who is avoiding responsibility by opting out of the typical ‘60s lifestyle.
The ugly is the horribly dated depictions of women. Granted, this was written in 1968, but for a guy who could look ahead and write about issues like the destruction of Florida’s natural environment for greed and the loss of personal privacy in modern life long before these were issues with the general public, MacDonald wrote the females in the books with such a jaw dropping amount of sexism that at times it almost reads like a parody.
Even worse is that in this one, it seems like he really tried to incorporate some strong female characters, but then he undermines it all by having Tush’s wife fall apart after his death, leaving McGee and others to step in and take care of everything for the little woman. And this book also features a girlfriend for McGee with the James Bondian-style name of Puss Killian. As usual with the ladies in McGee’s life, Puss is measured by her looks, her hearty appetite, and her willingness to help Travis without any womanly emotions getting in the way. Oh, and of course, she’s a wildcat in the sack.
As always after checking out one of these books, I’m left liking the plot and the McGee character, but am left shaking my head in amazement at the way the females are written.(less)
It’d been twenty-some years since I’d read the Travis McGee books, and when I heard that a movie version of The Deep Blue Good-Bye was in the works, I...moreIt’d been twenty-some years since I’d read the Travis McGee books, and when I heard that a movie version of The Deep Blue Good-Bye was in the works, I’d started picking up copies in used bookstores to give the series another read. I’ve had moments where I’ve started to regret that decision.
While I had fond memories of MacDonald’s tales of the Florida beach bum who makes his living recovering funds that were stolen by semi-legal means or conned from the victims, re-reading these early books from the’60s with a 2010 perspective is starting to depress me because the attitudes and portrayals of women are so painful that they make an episode of Mad Men look like feminist propaganda.
McGee is summoned to Chicago by an old girlfriend, Glory, who had married Fortner Geis, a prominent and respected surgeon who has recently died after a long illness. Geis should have had a large estate to leave to Glory and his two grown children from a previous marriage, but all involved are shocked to find that Geis had spent his final months converting his funds to cash and now the money is gone. McGee’s first theory is that it has to be some kind of blackmail, but what kind of threat could make a dying man leave nothing for his family?
I often laughed out loud at how dated some of this comes across. Geis is repeatedly described as a good and honorable man, yet it’s known to most of the characters that he once had a relationship with his nurse that started with an act that was borderline date rape. He also had an illegitimate daughter that he deliberately never met, even when he was dying, but everyone still thinks he was a swell guy because he set up a small trust fund for her and had private detectives check up on her regularly.
The most cringe inducing parts involve a woman who is known by all the characters to be ‘frigid’. Of course, McGee can help her solve that problem, and you can imagine what kind of therapy he plans to use.
But for all the flaws, these books still hold a kind of charm for me. The mystery of why Geis gave up all his money is intriguing, and McGee’s brooding commentary about modern life circa 1966 still made this an good crime novel. Plus, when MacDonald isn’t sharing his views on women, he regularly delivers writing gold. Check out this sample when McGee is flying into Chicago and bad weather is making the landing tricky:
Even with the buffeting, there is an impression of silence inside the aircraft at such times. People stare outward, but they are looking inward, tasting of themselves and thinking of promises and defeats.
Anyone who has ever white knuckled an armrest during a bad flight should be able to relate to that, and it’s these moments that’ll keep me going through this series. (less)
When I first read the Travis McGee books during my high school years in the ‘80s, I thought they were pretty bad-ass crime stories, but that the early...moreWhen I first read the Travis McGee books during my high school years in the ‘80s, I thought they were pretty bad-ass crime stories, but that the early ones from the ‘60s were a little dated. Re-reading the McGee books now makes me realize that they are VERY dated in a lot of ways, but that MacDonald was way ahead of the curve on some issues. And they’re still bad-ass crime stories.
McGee is a self-described boat bum in Fort Lauderdale with a unique racket. Calling himself a salvage consultant, he makes deals with people who have been ripped off or conned out of money or valuables by means that make legal recovery difficult or impossible. For half the value, McGee will go out and try to get it back. Part detective and part con man, McGee is prone to brooding over the nature of his work and humanity in general, but he deals with his occasional bouts of depression with long cruises on his houseboat, usually with a beautiful woman along for company.
At the start of this story, McGee is in one of his funks and planning a lazy summer of boating, booze and babes to combat this latest case of the blues when an old acquaintance named Arthur Wilkinson shows up looking homeless and starved. Arthur had a good-sized inheritance when he hung around McGee’s beach friends, but he had married an evil little shrew named Wilma. It turned out that Wilma had been the scout for a group of con men working a real estate scheme and with her help, Arthur has been taken for all he had.
McGee originally tries to pawn Arthur off on Chookie, a dancer that Arthur had dated before hooking up with Wilma. But when Chookie demands that McGee help Arthur recover his money and his self-esteem, they start running their own scam on the people that fleeced Arthur. But they’ll have to be very careful around Boone Waxwell, a cunning and brutal good ole boy with a taste for abusing women.
The good parts of a McGee story are all here. The plan to scam the money with action set against McGee’s musings about the state of the world is pretty typical of these stories. MacDonald was ahead of his time on issues like environmentalism and over-development of Florida. He also predicted how the computerization and regulation of personal information would eventually make it very hard for people to maintain their personal privacy, and McGee chafes against the modern world. And Boone Waxwell is a very creepy and effective villain.
But the dated and almost laughable parts of these books are McGee’s attitude towards women. While not seeing them as disposable pleasures, McGee did have a patronizing chauvinisism regarding the ladies that would probably get him kicked in the testicles today. There’s some really cringe inducing passages about dealing with the little woman here, and the female characters fit right into McGee's view of them.
Also, there’s a really nasty rape scene where McGee knows it’s going on, but doesn’t immediately try to stop it. There are circumstances preventing his direct involvement, but when he has a chance, he doesn’t call for help for the woman, and then coldly uses the aftermath to his advantage and doesn’t show much remorse about it. McGee could be a bastard at times, but usually felt horrible about it afterwards so this may just be a flaw in the plot rather than a character issue, but it’s pretty ugly.(less)
In one of the Travis McGee books, he and his best buddy Meyer are out fishing when someone dumps a woman off a bridge in front of them, and this gets...moreIn one of the Travis McGee books, he and his best buddy Meyer are out fishing when someone dumps a woman off a bridge in front of them, and this gets them mixed up with a bunch of criminals. In this one, a woman runs across the road which causes them to wreck and gets them involved in more murderous mayhem. These guys are like magnets for women randomly appearing and causing shit storms.
McGee and Meyer are driving home on a Florida back country road late at night after attending a wedding. Suddenly, a half naked woman runs in front of the car and they end up in a canal. There’s no sign of the girl so they start hiking only to be shot at by a passing pick-up. When they finally reach a gas stations, they’re immediately arrested for the murder of a man named Frank Baither, and Meyer gets the shit beaten out of him by one of the deputies while in police custody.
And you thought you were having a bad day.
Pretty typical McGee with the self-described salvage consultant getting mixed up in a mess of small town murder and secrets involving the loot from a heist. As usual, we’re treated to McGee’s musings on life and people as well as some horribly dated stuff regarding sex and women. Since this one involves one character blackmailing several women into acting as whores, we also get McGee’s thoughts on prostitution. It's not pretty.
Unfortunately, this one also sags a bit in the mystery department too. MacDonald got a little too cute for his own good with murder after murder and trying to figure out who killed who as well as enough small town scandals to keep the fellas at the barber shop gossiping for years.
This results in the whole initial mystery coming undone in the last act and left me scratching my head. (view spoiler)[ Initially Lilo Paris tells Travis that she was with Frank Baither when the two guys came after him to make him tell where the loot was. Somehow she ended up fleeing from them and ran in front Travis’s headlights to show them that she was not Frank so that they would quit chasing her. Baither later takes a shot at McGee and Meyer after mistaking them for these two men.
Yet later we find out that it was actually Lilo who tortured and killed Frank to find out where the money was, and that she had lured the two other men to their deaths. So if Lilo killed Frank and had already offed the two guys who were supposedly after both of them, why would she be out on the road and running in front of Travis’s truck? Keep wondering because it doesn’t get explained.
And what the hell ever happens to poor Raoul the cat? McGee takes him in at the end after Betsy Kapp has been murdered, but he doesn’t have a cat in any other of the following books. There’s probably a joke to be had somewhere in there with McGee and pussy cats, but I’m not going there. (hide spoiler)] All in all, this one started off strong but faded into a mess of too many characters and too many schemes. This was a reread via one of the newly released audio books, and the narration is still very strong by Robert Petkoff. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
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 app...moreTravis 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 must have been drugged. Since Lawless was in deep financial trouble there are rumors that he faked his death and ran to Mexico with what was left of his fortune. McGee and his best friend Meyer head to the town of Timber Bay to see if they can uncover some proof that Harder was set up.
This is kind of an odd plot because it seems like Harder would be cleared even if Travis had done nothing since the entire town is convinced that Lawless ran to Mexico, and the sheriff already has plenty of evidence that he’s investigating to prove that. Travis doesn’t even have to do much conning in this one since Meyer has provided them ample cover in the guise of businessmen potentially interested in Lawless’s holdings if the title issue can be cleared up so all the bigwigs in town are anxious to talk to them.
Still, there’s a nice rhythm to this one with McGee’s typical musings about life and his own nature. Even the sexism inherent to the books is toned down considerably. Hey, it only took until 1978!
McGee only bangs one random woman as part of a tawdry one night stand, and it causes him considerable emotional angst since he’s experiencing a bit of a mid-life crisis. (It also let MacDonald engage in his usual trick of letting Trav bag the babes but make him seem better than just a man-ho because he’s sensitive enough to feel guilty about it, damn it!)
And when Travis has got the blues, what’s the cure? Why another woman of course. Only in this case, the old Sea Cock actually tumbles head over heels for a lady. Granted there’s some unbelievable insta-love going on here, and McGee still has to be kind of a d-bag at times, but this is real progress for the series. Particularly when (view spoiler)[at the end Gretel insists that she doesn’t want to be the cure for what ails him and while willing to be in a relationship, is not going to just move onto his houseboat and be his on-board snuggle bunny. (hide spoiler)] ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Eleven books into my rereading of the Travis McGee series and as usual there’s a Good and Bad side to it.
Good = Travis McGee continues to be an intere...moreEleven books into my rereading of the Travis McGee series and as usual there’s a Good and Bad side to it.
Good = Travis McGee continues to be an interesting character who has rejected the responsibilities associated with a modern American life circa 1969 by working as a kind of hybrid detective/con man who gets involved in shady dealings to make a buck. On the surface McGee is just a lazy boat bum on a series of extended vacations, and he’s willing to occasionally risk his life to finance this lifestyle. However, on another level McGee is deeply offended by injustice and the destruction of the individual by society.
Bad - Travis McGee can also be a narcissistic bore and all around Know-It-All-Pain-In-The-Ass. He’s also even more of a man-whore than James Bond, and a bigger sexist than all the male characters of Mad Men combined.
I almost dropped this rereading of the series after I had baited friend Amanda into reading one just for my own amusement because I figured the results would be spectacular, but I outsmarted myself there because she did such a thorough job of blasting 'Sea Cock' McGee in her review of Darker Than Amber that I actually had a hard time picking up another one. But then Audible released new audio versions of the entire series, and I couldn’t resist diving back in.
A wealthy widower was badly injured in a car accident and while recovering is informed that his daughter Bix had died in Mexico. The man had drifted away from her and wants someone to go retrace her steps and find out about her last days. McGee and Meyer fly to Mexico where they learn that Bix had been part of the damn dirty hippie subculture flourishing there as well as being involved with a very wealthy and private woman. McGee begins to suspect that there was more to Bix’s death than just a simple car accident.
As usual if you can get past the depiction of the female characters and how they’re treated, there’s a pretty enjoyable late ‘60s mystery story here. The women this time include an oversexed British expatriate who tries her best to wear McGee out (Guess how that goes.), and a secretary on vacation who falls for McGee‘s manly charms. Hell, there’s an actual scene with a friend of McGee’s slapping his secretary’s ass while she runs out of his office giggling. There are also some homosexual characters in this one and while it’s not as bad as it could be, MacDonald wouldn’t have been winning any GLAAD Awards.
Despite the flaws, I stick around for the Good elements as well as MacDonald’s writing. There’s a particularly nice chapter here where McGee is recounting all the bad luck that the wealthy Bowie experienced and reflecting on how easy it for even a well-constructed life to fall apart that’s a classic example of what redeems the dated parts of these books.
Also, the newly recorded audio versions of this are great. Narrator Robert Petkoff does a superior job of delivering McGee’s extended monologues as well as creating unique voices for all the different characters. McGee fans who enjoy audio books won’t be disappointed.(less)
Thanks to this one and Lawrence Block’s Keller series, I know more about philately then I ever thought I would.
Travis McGee is coming off of one of hi...moreThanks to this one and Lawrence Block’s Keller series, I know more about philately then I ever thought I would.
Travis McGee is coming off of one of his periodic retirements and looking for a new salvage gig in which he’ll try to recover items that people were scammed out of for half their value. His client this time is a stamp dealer named Hirsh who puts together collections for people looking to use them as investments. Hirsh had been working with Frank Sprenger who is well-connected to the kind of people you don’t want to double cross lest you find yourself sharing an oil drum with Jimmy Hoffa.
Unfortunately, the dealer got a look at the collection he’s been buying for Sprenger during his last transaction, and someone swapped the rare stamps for junk despite the display book being kept in a locked safe deposit box that requires that both of them access it together. Their agreement leaves Hirsh on the hook to reimburse Frank and since this would bankrupt him he’s desperately trying to learn how it was done and who was responsible before Frank figures out that something is wrong. Suspects include Hirsh’s two assistants, and it also seems possible that Frank could have been running some elaborate con to get the stamps as well as clean Hirsh out.
Travis also has other things on his mind since the Lauderdale city council has just passed a measure designed to make living on a house boat illegal so he has to decide whether he’ll become a landlubber or move his beloved Busted Flush to a new permanent berth. Since this is a Travis McGee book we’re talking about, there also has to be a lady for him to romance and his latest victim candidate is Hirsh’s assistant Mary Alice.
I was having a fun time with this one through the first half of it as Travis tried to figure out how the stamps could have been switched as well as checking into Sprenger’s background. As always, half of what I like is McGee’s inner monologues about various aspects of the modern life of his time. Since the series was well into the 1970s by then, the sexism was toned down to a more tolerable level then many of the previous installments.
But things go downhill in a hurry once the book shifts to the romance with Mary Alice, and McGee seems to develop a terminal case of the stupids. (view spoiler)[ For being a guy who lives by his wits and much has been made about his instincts for reading people, Travis comes across as a complete dumb ass in this one. He somehow falls for Mary Alice despite her being a sociopath, and he completely misreads what’s going on with Sprenger. MacDonald does a decent job of dropping some hints about Mary Alice’s true nature along the way, but once the realization is made, any hint of subtly or pretense is gone. She’s seems stupid and obvious after this point so it makes McGee seem incredibly gullible for not picking up on it sooner. (hide spoiler)]
It’s somewhat redeemed by a decent last act that features a fairly tense action scene, but it’s far from the best example of this series.
As always when I review a Travis McGee book, I urge people to check out Amanda's review on the old Sea Cock, but she’s not a fan so don’t read it if criticism makes you angry or you don’t have a sense of humor.
And because this title demands it, here’s an exchange from Archer.
Rip Riley: I'm setting the autopilot, but this better not be a ruse.
Sterling Archer: A ruse? Brrring, brrring. Hello. Hi, it's the 1930's. Can we have our words and clothes and shitty airplane back?["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
(This is one of those books that’s a little tricky to review because I have to give up a fair amount of plot to discuss what I found so ridiculous ab...more (This is one of those books that’s a little tricky to review because I have to give up a fair amount of plot to discuss what I found so ridiculous about it, but it's all part of the basic set-up. If you know that you’re reading a crime novel and/or are familiar with Travis McGee it’s pretty obvious how things will play out. Plus, I’m not giving up anything about the ending so I’m not going to spoiler tag the whole review, but if you haven’t read and you don’t want to know too much, you should probably skip this one.)
The old Sea Cock really outdid himself this time….
When Pidge Llewellen was a teenage girl she had a huge crush on Travis McGee and her treasure hunting father once saved his life so he feels more than a little protective of her. After her father was killed in an accident, McGee and his friend Meyer made sure she received the sizable inheritance she was owed as well as vetted her prospective husband Howie Brindle. After their wedding Pidge and Howie set off on a cruise around the world in a small boat.
Months later Travis gets a call from Pidge in Hawaii asking for help. When he arrives Pidge tells him that either she’s crazy or Howie is trying to kill her. She claims several weird incidents happened at sea, but when Travis talks to Howie the big friendly lug is hurt and confused at his wife’s claims and behavior.
Convinced that the man is telling the truth, McGee gets Pidge drunk and to admit that she doesn't love Howie. Travis assures her that all the odd stuff was just her poor little female mind being unable to cope at failing when she picked a mate. Reassured, Pidge bangs McGee for a couple of days to prove his theory right. She then tells Howie that they’ll need to split, but he convinces her to sail the boat to meet a buyer at Poga Poga before they call a divorce lawyer.
Satisfied at his efforts as a marriage counselor and psychologist, McGee returns to Florida where he immediately begins nailing even more women than usual. Whatever could have driven him to this state? Examining his own heart, McGee finds that he has fallen in love with Pidge, and coincidently he gets a letter from her proclaiming her own love and saying that they’ll start a life of bliss together right after she gets done with this risky ocean voyage alone with the husband she recently informed of her wish to divorce and that she once thought might be trying to kill her…..
At first, McGee is ecstatic, but then he belatedly figures out that Howie is a total sociopath involved with a complicated scheme regarding Pidge’s inheritance. With no way to reach Pidge, all McGee can do is investigate Howie’s past and be waiting to see if Pidge is still alive when the boat reaches Poga Poga.
This could have been a great story, maybe even a turning point in the series if it had played up the angle of how badly McGee botched this and left a woman he cares for at the mercy of a killer. Heroes are interesting when they make mistakes and having the star of a series like this completely fail and try to atone for it should make for an entertaining book.
The problem here is that MacDonald makes McGee such a goddamn know-it-all. The off-topic monologues that Travis indulges in are usually one of the charms of the series for me when he was reflecting on life in an increasingly homogenized and corporatized America. However, in this one it seems like ole Trav knows best about everything from boat maintenance to hotel management to the safety records of cable cars. Since his work involves mixing it up with various kinds of shady people, he also frequently points out all the ways that the simple sheep of the world get slaughtered by the wolves and how he’s much too cautious and smart to fall for any of those tricks.
So he looks pretty damn ridiculous because he never once seems to consider the idea that he gave his blessing to a young man he knew little about so that he could marry a wealthy young lady and then sail away with her. After Pidge tells him she’s worried about being murdered including one incident where the husband admitted that he fired a gun in her direction, McGee is so certain that he’s diagnosed and treated (with sex) Pidge’s problem that it never even crosses his mind that Howie might be a bad guy. Even if you believed that there was no possibility that Pidge had been in danger before, it seems odd that McGee doesn’t show the slightest concern that she’d be alone for weeks at sea with the husband she's leaving.
I mean, what the shit? I would expect a cynical student of nature to maybe think that putting a couple with a pending divorce alone in a goddamn boat in the middle of the goddamn ocean wouldn’t be a great idea under the best of circumstances, let alone when either the husband has tried to kill her already or the cheese has slipped off her cracker….
McGee has had some pretty severe character defects through the course of this series, but this is the first time I just thought he was a complete moron from page one.(less)
When rereading one of these Travis McGee novel, I have to weigh the parts I like against the terrible sexism inherent to the books. Usually this balan...moreWhen rereading one of these Travis McGee novel, I have to weigh the parts I like against the terrible sexism inherent to the books. Usually this balances out fairly evenly, but this time the old Sea Cock* dropped the equivalent of a cartoon anvil on the wrong side of the scales.
This one had a lot of promise starting out. McGee is having a personal crisis after a misjudgment nearly gets him killed, and his best friend Meyer points out that it may be time for him to get out of the business of conning the con men of the world if his instincts are failing. Retirement could take the form of sailing off into the sunset with a wealthy widow if McGee can bring himself to accept the role of a kept man
As he is pondering his future, McGee is also looking for Mary Broll after a visit from her husband. Like every other woman in his life, McGee had once taken Mary for a long rape pleasure cruise on his house boat, but he hasn’t seen her since she got married. Mary’s estranged husband hasn’t seen her in months since she took off after catching him with another woman, and McGee gets worried that something may have happened to her.
As another one of McGee’s adventures in which he ends up acting as both con man and detective, this would rate pretty highly. The self-doubt of his abilities gives him a valid reason for the kind of navel gazing he engages in regularly. MacDonald’s best writing in this series usually comes up during McGee’s brooding and bitching about the vagaries of modern life in the era, and he delivers several great rants here.
But the women. The poor, poor women…
I don’t even know where to start. Some examples:
- There’s a private yacht crewed by hookers who simply love taking wealthy men out to sea as they prance around the boat naked. This is presented as one of the greatest small business ideas in history.
- A sassy bank teller stands up to her ass-grabbing boss in front of McGee and Meyer. After she leaves the room, McGee tells the banker that he should show respect to the pretty female employees and only grab the asses of the ugly ones if he wants a happy bank.
- McGee’s suspicions that something has happened to Mary are mainly based around his belief that she would have automatically run back to him since he did such a bang-up (Pun intended.) job of sexual healing on her the first time.
- Every attractive woman in the book flirts with or tries to sleep with McGee.
- Near the end, McGee seems to finally have some self-awareness of what a man whore he is and that his history of sexing up women with problems as a way of ‘helping them’ was probably a bad thing. The solution? Make sure the next woman he takes out for one of his sex cruises doesn’t have any issues. Fortunately one happens along about ten minutes later.
- Worst and creepiest of all, when McGee tracks down a woman involved with Mary’s disappearance, he pretends to be a scamming sociopath who wants to cut himself in on the scheme. He does this by choking the woman nearly unconscious and there’s a strong hint that he does more to her because she essentially begs him to force the whole story out of her. Of course, she keeps trying to seduce him after this but Seacock has far too many morals to sleep with this woman so he makes up a terrifying story about killing another former female partner to scare her pants on. Did I say he was pretending to be a sociopath? It was kind of hard to tell….
I’ve tried to make allowances for the books up until now because they were written in the ‘60s so a certain amount of Don Draper-style attitudes should probably be expected. But this one was published in 1971. Robert B. Parker’s first Spenser book would come out two years later, and Lawrence Block’s Matt Scudder wasn’t far behind, so the idea that this kind of thing was part of the standard equipment for crime novels of the day is starting to get pretty thin.