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« Generation Next | Main | Odds and Ends, Snow Edition »
Monday
Feb262007

Homage to Travis McGee

One of my more literate buddies and I were having supper a few weeks ago when the discussion veered from “lies about women” to “books we like.” Come to think about it, those may be the only things we ever talk about. Anyway, we tried to remember what specific book got us hooked on a particular genre. Kiddie books don’t count.

I can safely say that Robert Heinlein’s Have Space Suit, Will Travel started my infatuation with science fiction. Tolkien’s hobbits lead to a brief flirtation with fantasy novels. I remember Kenneth Roberts’ Northwest Passage and Mary Renault’s The King Must Die as my first dalliances with historical fiction – an affair that continues to this day. And of course, Fleming’s Bond stories created this fan of international espionage.

But I read two detective novels for every one book of another genre. And it was John D. McDonald’s Travis McGee who set me down this path. No pantywaist Hardy Boy or tea-sipping Marple or cerebral Holmes, this McGee. He describes himself as:

I was an artifact, genus boat bum, a pale-eyed, shambling, gangling, knuckly man, without enough unscarred hide left to make a decent lampshade. Watchful appraiser of the sandy-rumped beach ladies. Creaking knight errant, yawning at the thought of the next dragon.  They don't make grails the way they used to. The Green Ripper, p 46.
redfox.jpgMcGee set the mold for my favorite detectives. Smart, absolutely, but also unafraid of violence when needed and unafraid to buck the establishment when necessary. And always adhering to a personal moral code that detests bullies and protects the innocent. Knight errant, indeed.

I re-read a couple McGee mysteries just recently and McDonald’s writing has held up. McGee’s relationship with women won’t pass any political correctness tests today, but I love how the women he encounters can speak in complete, compound, even complex sentences that add up to whole paragraphs:
She wrenched around to face me, her mouth stretched into ugliness. "And what the hell do you know about relationships? Symbiotic! Limited contact with reality! How could you even pretend to recognize the intellectual position? Oh, you have your lousy little vanity, Mr. McGee. You have a shrewd, quick mind, and little tag ends of wry attitudes, and a short of deliberate irony, served up as if you were holding it on a tray. And you have the nerve to patronize me! You have all your snappy little answers to everything, but when they ask the wrong questions, you always have fists or kicking or fake superior laughter. You are a physical man, but in the best sense of being a man, you are not one-tenth the man my brother was. " Her eyes went wild and dazed. "Was," she repeated softly/ She had sunk the barb herself, and chunked it deep, and she writhed on it. A Purple Place for Dying, p. 71
McGee’s life was one I’ve always envied. Life onboard the houseboat The Busted Flush. Working only enough to take his retirement a small piece at a time. Beautiful women going in and out of his life. A true friend and Watson in next door neighbor Meyers. The life, I suppose, we all dream about but would probably detest were we actually in it. No children or grandchildren in McGee’s world as I remember.

I am always searching for other detectives of the McGee school – smart, violent and principled. As Bill Ott suggests in his February "Rousing Reads" column in American Libraries, Lee Child’s hero Jack Reacher comes close. Earl Swagger (Stephen Hunter), Dave Robicheaux (James Lee Burke), Harry Bosch (Michael Connelly), and even Gabriel Allon (Daniel Silva) honor the type.

It’s my hope that authors keep cranking out these tough guys that can use brains, bullets and fists. Any suggestions to expand my list? What book hooked you on a genre?

 

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Reader Comments (14)

Have you read the books by Richard Stark (aka Donald Westlake) about career criminal Parker ?
February 26, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterAlice
I really don't have suggestions but I cannot resist gushing because I adore Travis, and Meyer (really, I love him). Every once and a while I reread the series in order from beginning to end; it is comfort food and while the women issues really aren't PC, there are some race issues as well but still - love them. My mom got me hooked, she rereads on occasion and when I was in the 5th grade doing the dreaded "state report" she wrote a one page appendix on Travis McGee, obviously my state was Florida. BTW - I didn't start reading McGee until I was quite a bit older. And I was going to suggest Stephen Hunter but you have him already.
February 27, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMaryAnn Harlan
'Dune' got me started on an exploration of science-fiction.

I like to read thematically or in genres. So, my science-fiction phase lasted a couple of years then I moved on to other things.

Recently I'm more drawn to fact than fiction. So popular science and biography pull me in. I will read anything by Dava Sobel, Jared Diamond, Tim Flannery... and others. Hell, I even understood 'A Short History of Time' while I was reading it. I've lost it now, just like 'Flowers for Algernon'... nice return to science-fiction, eh?
February 28, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterGillian

Try Doc Ford's character by Randy Wayne White. This is a series about a character that almost mirrors T. McGee.

July 9, 2007 | Unregistered Commenterjoel

After reading all the McGee novels in the early 80's, I kept looking. I found Robert B. Parker's "Spenser" novels. Very entertaining. Spenser is witty, tough, and he loves to drink beer. I still read them. Parker averages about one a year (he also writes books with other lead characters, I like the Jesse Stone ones too) Spenser is getting older (aren't we all) but he is still very entertaining. I would suggest starting with either "A Catskill Eagle" , "The Judas Goat" or " Pale Kings and Princes".

May 27, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJack

I have been thinking about you lately. You are one of the few people I know who speaks currently and lovingly of Travis McGee and I know I have gushed about him on this post before - see above. When I was prepping for my orals senior year in college I procrastinated by reading the McGee series beginning to end. I have a big presentation coming up in my PhD program and I have recently discovered Jack Reacher. I am on book 6 and reading Reacher is pretty much what I do with my day (pretty sure the presents are ready but I am sensing a pattern). Anyways it got me thinking about this post and whether or not you included Lee Child - which it turns out you did. So I may have to give Stephen Hunter a try as I get deeper into the PhD. :) anyways I know this is randomly out of the blue but blue skunk has been on my mind lately. . .

August 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMary Ann

Hi Mary Ann,

Always fun to hear from a fellow McGee fan (and procrastinator!) I need to do some research to find out just why one puts things off. I am truly the champion.

Just finished the latest Reacher novel myself this summer. Pretty good. I think you'll find Hunter a good deal more gritty, less sophisticated. I also have Daniel Silva's latest Gabriel Allon (Mossad assassin) novel on my dresser.

I've read a few Doc Ford novels by Randy Wayne White too. They also feel a bit like Travis McGee's, set in Florida with a regular cast of characters.

Good luck with your presentation!

Doug

August 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

been reading travis mcgee novels for 30 years own them all in soft and hardback. lots of people dont realize there is usually 3 stories in each one the mystery\ john mcdonald personal view on life\ and the rape of florida. no one writes like him. i even have an audio cassette of the green ripper as voiced by darrin mcgavin from the nite stalker fame which is a thing i make a big deal out of each spring listening on the back deck looking at the lake in georgia wishing i was at the beach. when i go to the beach i tell my friends when they go out to eat at between 1600 and 1800 that i cant go because an old friend of mine is gonna come and drink some boodles on ice with me and they look like im krazy because they dont understand

January 17, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterriley morris

Here’s a quote about John D. Macdonald that I often see bouncing around the web (I hesitate to quote from Wikipeida, which we all know is generally stuff we can wipe our asses with, but this seems legit). “Macdonald is by any standards a better writer than Saul Bellow, only Macdonald writes thrillers and Bellow is a human heart chap, so guess who wears the top grade laurels?” That’s from Kingsley Amis.
http://postmoderndeconstructionmadhouse.blogspot.com/2015/01/john-d-macdonald-look-at-some-aspects.html#.VNHn89L

March 21, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth

Thanks for sending this. As a matter of fact, I have a couple Travis McGees for my long flight to Borneo this week. McDonald has always surpassed Connelly, Child, and others for me as the best mystery writer.

Doug​

March 21, 2015 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

Here’s a quote about John D. Macdonald that I often see bouncing around the web (I hesitate to quote from Wikipeida, which we all know is generally stuff we can wipe our asses with, but this seems legit). “Macdonald is by any standards a better writer than Saul Bellow, only Macdonald writes thrillers and Bellow is a human heart chap, so guess who wears the top grade laurels?” That’s from Kingsley Amis.
http://postmoderndeconstructionmadhouse.blogspot.com/2015/01/john-d-macdonald-look-at-some-aspects.html#.VNHn89L

March 21, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth

Here’s a quote about John D. Macdonald that I often see bouncing around the web (I hesitate to quote from Wikipeida, which we all know is generally stuff we can wipe our asses with, but this seems legit). “Macdonald is by any standards a better writer than Saul Bellow, only Macdonald writes thrillers and Bellow is a human heart chap, so guess who wears the top grade laurels?” That’s from Kingsley Amis.
http://postmoderndeconstructionmadhouse.blogspot.com/2015/01/john-d-macdonald-look-at-some-aspects.html#.VNHn89L

March 28, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth

“The stars, McGee, look down on a world where thousands of 4-H kids are raising prize cattle and sheep. The Green Bay packers, of their own volition, join in the Lord’s Prayer before a game. Many good and gentle people have fallen in love this night. At this moment, thousands of women are in labor from the fruit of good marriage.
http://postmoderndeconstructionmadhouse.blogspot.com/2015/01/john-d-macdonald-look-at-some-aspects.html#.VNHn89L

April 12, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth

Here’s a quote about John D. Macdonald that I often see bouncing around the web (I hesitate to quote from Wikipeida, which we all know is generally stuff we can wipe our asses with, but this seems legit). “Macdonald is by any standards a better writer than Saul Bellow, only Macdonald writes thrillers and Bellow is a human heart chap, so guess who wears the top grade laurels?” That’s from Kingsley Amis.
http://postmoderndeconstructionmadhouse.blogspot.com/2015/01/john-d-macdonald-look-at-some-aspects.html#.VNHn89L

April 25, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth

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