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 Seacock* 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.
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)
In one of the Travis McGee books, he and Meyer are out fishing when someone dumps a woman off a bridge in front of them, and this gets them mixed up w...moreIn one of the Travis McGee books, he and 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 his best buddy 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)
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)
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)
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)
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 seems 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)
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)
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.