Back in high school, a girl whose taste in books I respected (she was also a fan of Kurt Vonnegut and pre-movie Princess Bride) told me I should read the Travis McGee novels. Based on her recommendation, I spent one summer working my way through the seventeen book series. Part of the gimmick for the series is that all the books have a color in the title, making reading them in chronological order a tricky task. Early in the series, more than one book would come out a year, so copyright year alone wasn’t enough to figure out the sequence. Fortunately, the books are fairly self-contained and didn’t get much of a continuing storyline until late in the series.
Travis McGee, the anti-hero in rusted armor of the series, is a lanky beach bum who rights wrongs for people caught in legal gray areas for a 50% share of the net recovery. Despite this mercenary approach, Trav, as his friends and paramours call him, is an avenging angel that is always on the side of the underdog and the disenfranchised. It helps if the victim is attractive and sexually vulnerable. The books are full of the softcore obligatory sex scenes that were a fixture of trashy paperbacks of the sixties and seventies.
John D. MacDonald was a World War II veteran and an MBA’ed business refugee that cut his teeth in the same oversaturated post-war magazine market that gave Kurt Vonnegut his big break. MacDonald then moved onto the lurid cover paperback original scene before beginning the Travis McGee series.
What separates Travis McGee from Matt Helm and Remo Williams and his contemporaries is the sense of place developed form the Florida setting. While the first several books jumped around, the series eventually settled down to focus on the environmental and financial horrors in shady Florida real estate deals gone awry. The books are much more exciting than that synopsis makes them sound.
As a then-Floridian, I took particular delight in books that exposed the hypocrisy of the region. Behind the adventure there were always biting commentaries on whatever injustice MacDonald wanted to filter through his muscled alter ego. Travis eventually gained a retired economist as a sidekick, so that the more esoteric exposition could be plausibly revealed.
After I worked through the series, I read other novels by MacDonald and then I became more than a fan. I became an obsessed connoisseur. I started hunting down the yellow paged first editions of each book. I bought books about Travis McGee. I watched bad movies based on MacDonald novels. After college I had moved back to Florida and got wind of a semi-academic symposium in Sarasota on the by-then late John D. MacDonald and dragged my wife to it on a whim. There I met even more devoted fans of the man. Some had flown in from California just for the event. I had even started a now lost Geocities page that was to be the ultimate Travis McGee fan site.
Finally, on a trip through Fort Lauderdale I made it to the Holy Grail of McGee fandom, Slip F-18 at the Bahia Mar. This fictitious address at a real marina was completely imaginary until the developer actually built an F pier. The Travis fame forced the place to start numbering the slips from 101 to protect the privacy of the actual owners.
In tribute to Travis McGee, and to give literary stalkers like me a photo op, they placed a literary landmark out on the dock. In a moment of true geekdom, I made sure I immortalized my visit on film. In the next several months, I intend to recreate those heady summer days where I read the Travis McGee books as fast as I could get them by rereading them at a book a month pace. I will post a review or commentary or whatever you want to call it on The Deep Blue Goodbye soon.
Blatant Comment Whoring™: Is there a regional writer that you like just because he or she writes about places you are familiar with?