Say Hello to Travis McGee

By the time he published his first Travis McGee adventure in 1964, John D. MacDonald (JDM) had written dozens of novels and scores of short stories. He populated them with relatively ordinary people who found themselves caught in terrible binds—ensnared by their own weaknesses or the traps that others set for them. Sex, power, greed, corruption, venality, egotism, hatred, heroism, selflessness, stupidity, nobility and evil itself course powerfully through JDM’s tales. Just as Georges Simenon—creator of the peerless Maigret series—understood what was ticking away beneath the carapace of the human skull, so did JDM. In fact, I would cast JDM as America’s own Simenon—with his deep insight into the psychology of people under extreme pressure.

So when Fawcett Books came to JDM in the early 1960s with the proposal to create a series based on a tough-guy, PI-type character, he was ready go. He had tested several McGee-like protagonists in earlier novels and wasn’t about to mimic the glib tough guys of less capable writers (e.g., the likes of Brett Halliday and Richard Prather, whom he replaced in the Fawcett stable); or those inscrutable literary shamuses Sam Spade (Hammett), Philip Marlowe (Chandler) and Lew Archer (Ross MacDonald). Travis McGee was about to raise the bar on crime fiction to its highest level ever. JDM’s 21 McGee stories would go beyond anything the hard-boiled fiction world had seen before, and serve as the template for the best detective/PI series of the 1970s and beyond—such as Spenser and V. I. Warshawski, Elvis Cole and Doc Ford. Not that any of those pretenders ever lived up to the boat bum from Ft. Lauderdale.

With philosopher/knight errant McGee, every case was personal. Whether he sortied out from the Busted Flush (his houseboat home) to defend or avenge a friend—or to undertake a salvage project for his fifty percent take—he brought with him his sense of justice. Righting the balance of things was always important to McGee.

For someone who perennially poked his nose into dangerous places, he had the complete toolkit: Crafty, muscular fighting skills; a sort of rough-hewn charm and sexiness; sharp instincts and reflexes; an intellect capable of untangling thorny problems; a sound understanding of human psychology; the classic hard-boiled PI conscience; the deceptiveness of a good con man; knowledge of the ways of commerce and politics; and an ability to recruit good people to the cause.

Above all, McGee brought a questing personal outlook. More insistently than almost any other protagonist in mystery and suspense, he shared his thoughts on the ways that the world was going—typically, to hell in a hand basket. (McGee died in 1986 with his creator, and I think he would be amazed that we aren’t more screwed up than we are at this point.) His ruminations on love, mortality and the fate of American society are some of the most heartfelt and insightful in all of genre fiction. Decades before most of us were aware of them, McGee reflected on our potential for environmental disaster and the inevitability of terrorism. He laid it all out for you, spoke it as he saw it, sometimes at excessive length. His 21 adventures constitute one of the under-appreciated treasures of 20th century American literature.

This blog will be my book-by-book personal take on a character and a writer who have become very important to me, ever since a mystery-writing teacher put me on to McGee 20 years ago. Every summer I read four or five McGees, usually in my backyard, sitting under the shade of a very old, very large elm. And however many times I’ve read Blue or Grey or Scarlet, I always treasure my time hanging with Trav and (in middle and later books) his sidekick Meyer. These entries will be partly book reports, partly my opinions on the best and worst of McGee. They may contain spoilers. But such revelations will be noted up front for McGee virgins who don’t want the beans spilled prematurely. Over the next four or five years I plan to write down my impressions of each book.

Happily, every one of the 21 McGees is still in print. You can get them new through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Borders, or any retail bookstore. And because millions of copies of JDM’s books have adorned book racks since the 1950s, the McGees and his 50 other paperback novels are often available in used bookstores and online for far less than the usual eight-buck cost of a new paperback today. I found many of mine for a buck each, some for as low as 25 cents.

Do you need to begin at the beginning, with 1964’s The Deep Blue Good-By? I didn’t, the first time through. But if you’re methodical about such things, maybe it’s a good idea. I think it’s safe to say that if Blue strikes a chord with you, you’ll like what follows. Otherwise, my advice is to just pick a color—all McGee titles feature colors—from the early or middle books. That would include Blue, Pink, Purple, Red, Gold, Orange, Amber, Yellow, Gray, Brown, Indigo, Lavender, Tan or Scarlet. My particular favorites in that group are Blue, Gray and Lavender. Then sit down and be transported to the heart of the 1960s, to Slip F-18, Bahia Mar, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.

D. R. Martin

83 Responses to “Say Hello to Travis McGee”

  1. calbrancheal Says:

    Good, and would love to get in touch with you…on my JDM website I had hoped that over the years many readers would chime in with their thoughts on the books

    Perhaps a link to your blog would be good

    cal

  2. Philip Turner Says:

    I’ve read and loved John D. MacDonald’s novels for years, mostly reading Travis McGee titles, though not exclusively. I’m still reading through the vast output, and enjoying them enormously. Just finished “The Green Ripper,” one of the best. Posted this on Facebook this morning: “#fridayreads ‘The Green Ripper,’ John D. MacDonald, another great Travis McGee suspenser (1979). Current as today’s news, w/hero McGee infiltrating militia terror cult. The title is a child’s spoken inversion of Grim Reaper.” Love these books! philipsturner@gmail.com

  3. Philip Turner Says:

    Posted this on Facebook today:
    Fascinating NY Times obit of the man whose inventing led to modern hi-fi speakers, the Acoustic Research make, and KLH. I had both brands back in the day, and loved them. In the classic Travis McGee suspense novels by John D. MacDonald, Trav is always cranking up his AR-1s on his houseboat to enjoy some cool jazz. http://nyti.ms/ruhu9Z

    Edgar M. Villchur, Hi-Fi Innovator, Dies at 94
    http://www.nytimes.com
    Mr. Villchur invented the AR-1 loudspeaker, which produced high-fidelity bass tones and was a quarter of the size of the speakers on the market.

  4. suncitiestoday Says:

    Just finished The Lonely Silver Rain (#21) and it was like saying goodbye to an old friend. Usually i plow through books with no attachment but the McGee series was a wholly different experience.

    I had managed to accumulate the entire collection and a year back i started working my way through them. Nice. I loved his story telling, and unlike other authors, he took both the time and care to develop the characters and build the plot. No other word to describe him other than genius.

    Just wanted to say thanks for the site and being able to say how much i enjoyed JDM’s Travis McGee books. For anyone who hasn’t read them, you should.

    RIP JDM

  5. Riley Morris Says:

    Currently reading The scarlet ruse. I own them all soft and hardback. I will read a book by someone else and immediately read a Travis Mcgee book. Its an addiction i have had for 30 years. I talk to my sons and friends like Travis is a real person and in away he is to me. If i ever win Powerball ill be at Bahia Mar on a house boat with a cooler of cold Tuborg beer. come have 1 with me.

  6. Dearel Friend Says:

    I had probably read 4,000 books before I discovered JDM. I was in the Air Force, manning a North Dakota missile site and found that someone had left The Deep Blue Goodbye on the bookshelf. I was thereafter hooked on JDM. I have all of his books, many now dog eared from re-reading them time and again.

    It has now been 26 years since JDM left us and I can truthfully say there will never be another like him.

  7. DADDY56 Says:

    AMEN BROTHER GOING TO PANAMA CITY WITH MY AIRBORNE RANGER SON BEFORE HE DEPLOYS TO AFGHANISTAN AND IM SURE THE TOPIC WILL COME UP. CURRENTLY READING DARKER THAN AMBER GO TO U TUBE AND WATCH THE REAL FIGHT SCENE WITH WILL SMITH

  8. RBH Says:

    Does anyone know when/if the T McGee series will be available on Kindle and/or Nook?

  9. drmar120 Says:

    Re. Travis in e book form, I simply don’t know. But keep in mind that JDM’s literary legacy is controlled by his son, who refused Stephen King’s offer to write a new McGee adventure. (Stephen King no less!) Pure speculation on my part, but perhaps the younger MacDonald just doesn’t like e books and the lack of control they offer.

  10. DADDY56 Says:

    wow imagine the chance to read a new travis mcgee story.

  11. Gregory Benford Says:

    A new Travis novel would be a blessing if done right–a tall order indeed. As a professional, I’ve learned much from JDM, and as a Southerner, lament the passing of the verdant wilderness of my boyhood.
    A Travis novel could reanimate interest in the series, indeed, as the Foundation sequels to Asimov’s great work did.

    • drmar120 Says:

      Thanks so much for the comment. I agree entirely that a new McGee novel would be hard to pull off, but very much worthwhile. As I’ve mentioned here before, the JDM estate apparently won’t allow any such thing to proceed. (Does anyone know otherwise?) A few years ago Stephen King offered to give it a shot, and was turned down. It seems we’ll have to wait for a new generation of MacDonalds to address the concept.

  12. Gregory Benford Says:

    I’ve had much experience with estates of great deceased science fiction writers, and the Asimov is the only one I know that gave the nod. I, Greg Bear & David Brin wrote connected sequel novels which sold many hundreds of thousands of copies, to this day a big success (may be a million by now).
    Other estates won’t allow it. We three didn’t try the Asimov style but further developed the ideas. With Travis the style is essential and you’re right, a real job. I did a similar figure in a novella, DARK HEAVEN, about 6 years ago, which was successful and reprinted. (I could send you an ms, if you like.)
    The key idea is the 3 sequel Foundation novels reanimated Asimov’s sales a good deal so the estate made very good money.
    To me the point would be to carry forward the sensibility and especially the concern for preserving Florida, which is quite endangered from sea rise (a field I work in; I’m a physicist). A novel on that, maybe an sf novel, would be most interesting…

    • drmar120 Says:

      For a number of years I reviewed SF for the Minneapolis Star/Tribune. So seeing your name in this comment space was a neat surprise–my blog’s first celebrity commenter. I know I read some of your books years ago. But I’m embarrassed to say that I can’t recall if I ever reviewed any. At any rate, I would love to read DARK HEAVEN.

      It would be fantastic to see an SF novel with a McGee type character, as you suggest. (And perhaps a dystopian FL?) Sounds like it’s right up your alley.

      I’ll send you my e-mail address separately.

  13. Steve Kountz Says:

    Question: ‘Darker Than Amber’ is a Travis McGee movie released in 1970, JDM is one of the co-writer of the film. Is there a copy of the script running around? Can it be found on the net? How much of the script was JDM?

    If the movie was successful they allegedly were going to make a new movie every 18 months. If true, does anyone know what titles were on the drawing board?

    Seems to me if they were going to franchise Travis McGee that the scripts would have been farmed out like the Ian Flemming Bond movies.

    Also regarding ‘Darker Than Amber’ 1970 movie has a good print of it ever shown up? I would love a DVD of it with special features about the making of the movie.

    Last thought tonight, I’d love to see a PBS American Masters show on JDM.

    Steve Kountz
    Musicalchemist@gmail.com

    • drmar120 Says:

      I dug into the JDM biography by Hugh Merrill, and according to him, JDM’s relationship with Hollywood was complicated and, ultimately, not very fruitful. JDM hated the first script he saw for AMBER. Though he did not have script approval in his contract, he managed to steer it toward something that was more acceptable. During that original encounter with Hollywood c. 1970 any further McGee adventures would supposedly depend on the success of AMBER. (For a fascinating history of the movie, check out the Wikipedia entry.) Well, it flopped. Despite that, the producers started planning to tackle A DEADLY SHADE OF GOLD; but that fell apart.

      JDM never wanted to deal with Hollywood again, after that experience. But ten or so years later, due to potential tax issues involved in valuing JDM’s estate, the author sold rights to the stories to Hollywood. The first and only result was a movie based on THE EMPTY COPPER SEA, called TRAVIS MCGEE, starring Sam Elliot. It was apparently a Travis-ty. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) There was some noise in the mid-80s about a McGee TV series, but again no go.

      Re. the script, I have no idea if any copies are out there. Apparently, AMBER the film is sighted only rarely, with no complete prints known of. A DVD with extras would be, I think, extremely unlikely. You’re right, though, that one of the reasons JDM sallied forth into film c. 1970 was because of the popularity of the Bond franchise. JDM on American Masters? Sign me up.

  14. Gregory Benford Says:

    Steve, count me in on ANY JDM movie–haven’t found a one online or Netflix.
    I started with The Deep Blue Good-By when it came out, read the first 4 with rising enthusiasm, and now am rereading them in order–which helps, Travis evolves.
    Occasional comments on his “sexism” show how mores change. Travis has attitudes toward women I understand because he’s very good at handling them, dealing with their unspoken needs. He and they would be revolted at the crass rap culture we now see, and women called “bitch” in pop culture with no objections. Times change, often not for the better.
    Note JDM’s insightful novels about business (A Key to the Suite). He’d have been astonished at the debt we’ve run up at every level of government and personally since 1980. I too come from the era when debt was disfavored; I have none now. Neither did my parents. I grew up on the Gulf Coast and have watched my cousins get themselves in deep trouble by following the prevailing tide.

  15. Judi Rohrig Says:

    A few years ago Martin Greenberg, Dean Koontz, and Ed Gorman approached JohnD’s son about pulling together a book of previously uncollected short stories, but they were turned down. As I understand it, only movie offers will be considered. That’s certainly a shame because a movie would only be an adaptation of any of JohnD’s works. It’s the way he told his stories, his fine weaving of words, his books, that should be reintroduced to the reading public. (And NOT updated to avoid PC issues.) Truly MAD MEN could be kicked up a notch or two if one or more of the ad agency guys lugged around a Gold Medal paperback.

  16. Steve Kountz Says:

    Most writers do not have an easy relationship with Hollywood. Would the Bond films been different had Flemming lived longer?

    The Maltese Falcon was filmed two times before John Huston took it on by sticking to the book. Now it is a classic.

    I can’t possibly see that JDM Estate gas to gain by turning down,Stephen King or Dean R. Koontz etc. even if they concocted the stickiest piece of shit this side of Ft. Lauderdale, they can’t ruin the original books. And if they are successful, they only enhance it.

    Give me a person who thinks all the Sherlock Holmes post Doyle books, sequels, movies, TV Shows or TV Movis have ruined the ORIGINAL books.

    Let’s Hollywood remade Cape Fear, War Of The Worlds, The Day The Earth Stood Still, Dr. Dolittle, Thunderball etc. Why not tackle Travis McGee.

    Steve Kountz

    • drmar120 Says:

      McGee fans may recall that two or three years ago there was a flurry of rumors about a McGee film. It was reported that Leo DiCaprio was interested. Here’s an LA Times piece from the period. I haven’t heard any more about it. None of us will have any influence on this happening, of course, but it’s fun to ask: Who do we want to star and direct? Gregory Benford and I had a little dialog on McGee casting recently. I don’t think I’d like DiCaprio; good actor but wrong for McGee. I’d like Liam Neeson, though he’s a bit old; a big tough guy with a current suspense action flick out. And Saul Rubinek for Meyer. (Back in 1970 it was Rod Taylor and Theodore Bikel.) What do you think, Steve?

  17. DJ Murphy Says:

    Hi! I’m an old Travis MgGee fan with a rainbow of books on my shelf. I’ve just epublished my own PI novel about a detective who lives on a Chris Craft Cruiser on the Mississippi River. It’s called Requiem for the Puppet Master. My blog is here.

  18. Steve Kountz Says:

    Though I’m not a fan of Leo DiCaprio (my three daughters are) I must admit that every adult movie I’ve seen of him has been a surprise. That is good.

    I like Matt Damon, I think he would make a great Travis.

    But to do a series, they need someone like Sean Connery. In “Dr. No” he hadn’t hit his stride yer. He was cheap, so the movie didn’t have to make an ungodly amount of money, to keep the series going.

    I would not like to see the Travis McGee movies to be big budget,with lots of special effects kind of movie. I kind of think they would lose their charm.

    If they make them with expensive star actor and director, I don’t think it would be a good sign for the old time fans like me.

    But hey, prove me wrong and bring it on!

    I’ll be first in line.

    PS Re-release the Rod Taylor movie. It might not be as bad as it reputation.

    -Steve Kountz
    \{^_^}/

  19. Steve Kountz Says:

    In today’s Washington Post is an article, “Mining the bookshelf for Box-office gold” b Stephanie Merry. There is a quote from Peter Blan head of the Red Circle, the Washington Headquarters for fans of Sherlock Holmes. He talks about all the countless adaptations of Arthur Conan Doyle’s works. Blan prizes entertainment over scrupulous replication. He says,
    “Some Sherlockians are purists. They reall are not happy with things that are not faithful to the canons,” he said. “If somebody goes too far afield, some people get grumpy. I don’t. I think it depends on how well whatever is done.”

    I agree.with him.

    One of the things I love abut the Travis books, is his internal monologues. His insights into women, people around him, the environment, society and the world around him. And that is hared to translate to film.

    Back in the hippie daze I was talking to my buddy Mark about the Travis Mcgee books. He felt that the Lloyd Bridges, Mike Nelson in Sea Hunt was a rip off of Travis McGee. In hindsight Travis followed Mike Nelson. On of the hallmarks of a good Sea Hunt story was Mike’s monologues on what was happening while he was under water. It really sets up the story and moved it along.

    Maybe a good Travis Mcgee movie will have Travis, Meyer, The Busted Flush, a damsel in distress with a really evil villian. With a healthy does of “Mike Nelson” type of voice overs, telling Travis’s internal thought process.

    I’ll be first in line.

    -Steve Kountz
    \{^_^}/

  20. DADDY56 Says:

    big fan of JDM .I live in columbus Ga.Found a book at used book sale recently. The Beach Girls by JDM. Copyright 1959. It was good and you could see where he was on the brink of creating a knight in rusty armor that was ocean based.Personally whomever stars in the travis mcgee flick i think will not live up to our expectations because he was larger than life in a lot of ways. don’t know if its still on you tube but the fight scene in darker than amber was real and both actors sustained real injuries. Go Travis

  21. drmar120 Says:

    DADDY56 is onto something that McGee fans should be aware of.

    JDM wrote about 40 other novels that weren’t McGees, mostly crime stories. Except for a few, they’re long out of print. But patient used bookstore browsers can find them. After all, millions of the things were printed as paperbacks. I’ve managed to pick up a couple of dozen myself and have read 8-10 of them. They’re uniformly good, sometimes flat out brilliant. In fact, when my McGee reviews are done (hopefully next year), I’m moving on to the other novels. If you don’t enjoy hunting through bookstores, you can find lots of them at Alibris, some as cheap as 99 cents + shipping.

    And believe me, JDM can tell a great yarn even when McGee isn’t involved. Keep your eye peeled, and you’ll start to find them.

    P.S. As I was looking through the JDM listings at Amazon, I saw that new trade paperback editions of McGee are coming out next year, with an intro by Lee Child. Does this mean the end of the mass markets? I don’t know. Does anyone out there?

  22. DADDY56 Says:

    The fight scene on Youtube from Darker than amber is still up. Must see. Bill Smith that runs thru the door beat Arnold Swartsniger at arm wrestling on the set of conan and was blackballed from his other movies because of it.JDM also wrote some sci fi. Got that too

  23. Stephen Fisher Says:

    Does anyone know anything about a cookbook privately published by JDM and his friends titled”the Admiral’s Wardroom Galley Book”..? Published by the Left Bank (no date). Forward (on last page) by JDM with McGee recipe. Compiled by the Admiral and his Galley Slaves.
    Thanks,
    Stephen Fisher

    • Herb Kauderer Says:

      Stephen, I have a copy.
      In the 260 word “Foreword” (which is actually at the back of the book) there is a Travis McGee recipe for mullet. It is written in McGee’s voice, and the recipe runs 59 words. I would be glad to forward a photo of the Foreword if you contact me off-blog.
      I have a lot of McGee obscurities that might please the completist, but I’m still looking for the short story “Terminal Cases” published in the October 3, 1977 issue of New York (a weekly magazine). If anyone can help me, I’d be grateful. I’d settle for photos or PDFs.
      Thanks
      Herb Kauderer
      hkauderer@yahoo.com

    • Herb Kauderer Says:

      I note that the “Foreword” to the Admiral’s Wardroom Galley is also reprinted in its entirety in the JDM Bibliophile #41 for July 1988. The accompanying text notes that their copy is signed by JDM and dated October 1979. Whether he signed it on release or later is unknown.
      -Herb Kauderer

  24. Jennifer Bussanich Hudson Says:

    I was given Lonely silver Rain by a dear “boat” bum friend of mine (now deceased) From the first I was hooked. The sheer weight of beautiful writing, astonished. The author’s freshness and candor they still posses for me after about 4-5 reads makes them unique(a much bandied term) and as a consequence i
    am forever enriched. They may be set in the somewhat distant past but reading and re-reading them allows me to holiday always in that wonderful place that is JDM. Here’s to taking my retirement (in installments with McGee, some Plymouth and a little ”flush” to call home among gentle and McGee minded folk.

    • drmar120 Says:

      Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments, Jennifer. It’s interesting that you entered Trav’s world right at the end. There’s so much in Silver that’s haunting and bittersweet. Practically speaking, the last of McGee. I almost feel like crying at the end. I assume you’ve read the other 20 adventures. I’d be curious to know how reading Silver first colored your experience reading the series–if indeed it did.

  25. Stephen Fisher Says:

    Thank you Herb…I have a complete (I beleive original) copy…I was just wondering if anyone knew anything about it.
    thanks again
    Stephen

  26. roy engstrom Says:

    I have a First Edition hardcover copy of The Empty Copper Sea that appears to have been printed in China in 1978. Nowhere is their any indication that it was published by Lippincott. Can someone advise me on this?

  27. Tom mcAlpine Says:

    I became acquainted with Travis McGee in 1970 while in the service. Luckily the novel was THE DEEP BLUE GOODBYE,
    the first of the series. I was fascinated by the intricacy of the
    story line and the humanity of the character, flaws and all.
    McGee and therefore JDM were the thoughtful men of action
    every man should aspire to be. I followed the character through
    JDM’s untimely death hoping there was just one more. Of
    course there wasn’t. So I tried to collect all the first edition
    Hard bounds. Looking back at the earlier novels you can see
    the talent and the growing voice which aall led to Travis.
    JDM was of a gentler generation than mine and certainly
    today’s. His ladies were usually damsels in distress which
    distresses the feminists to no end.
    But snappy dialogue and short chapters without intricacy of
    plot or character development do not compare with JDM.
    Jesus, what happened?

    • Cathy Says:

      Hi Tom:

      Must take issue with your comment that it “distresses feminists to no end” when Travis helps “damsels in distress.” I’m a feminist, have been my entire life and not once have I thought anything of the sort when Travis assists women in need.

      Read all of Travis in the ’60’s and ’70’s and then again five years ago. Started for the third read, this year.

      Always thought of Travis as the ultimate gentleman who treated women with respect, never taking advantage of them.

      If you want to bring up specific examples of what feminists would have a kitten over, I would welcome hearing them.

      One thing people forget is the period when the book(s) were written. i.e. no cell phones, how society looked at sex, fewer women in the work force…on and on. So a rational person would take that into consideration. I hope they would anyhow.

      Sorry but disagree with your comment. We can probably agree on other things though.

      Cathy

      • Tom mcalpine Says:

        Hello Cathy:

        It has been my experience that the full blown feminists
        resent that a man would have to save them. Of all the women he came in contact with personally only Puss
        Killian might be described as a Feminist somewhat
        accurately and she was facing death albeit secretively.
        Clearly his tales were somewhat rewrites of the knightly
        stories. He even described Travis as a knight errant
        With a rusty lance and a spavined steed in Travis’ own
        words.

        In my experience, feminists have not been thrilled with
        the ” man’s world” Travis inhabited. All the villains were
        Men except for the feminine Nazi in ONE FEARFUL
        YELLOW EYE although she was a doozie admittedly!
        I am glad to hear that there are exceptions but I
        suspect you know you are something of an exception.
        How many committed feminists do you know who read Travis
        McGee? More importantly how many do you who
        Appreciate the women featured in the books?

        Thanks for writing in any case. I had almost concluded that
        I was not going to hear any comments from my posting.
        It is nice to hear that there are thinking people still out
        in this age in which we are perched on the high ground.
        One can look back to the not so distant past and see
        And remember the good things behind us. Or one can
        Look into the valley ahead of us where the liars and losers
        are in control of the rot and refuse.

        I will look forward to any response you wish to lodge with
        me. Thanks again!

        Tom

  28. Cathy Says:

    D.R.: Re-reading A Purple and just came across another self-described Travis. “…the big chopped-up, loose-jointed, pale-eyed, wire-haired, walnut-hided rebel—unregimented, unprogrammed, unimpressed.

    Can’t recall that it made an impression on me the first time I read it but thought you might be interested.

    It was on page 39, paperback, published 1995.

    • drmar120 Says:

      One of the classic descriptions of Trav, Cathy. Thanks for quoting it. I keep trying to think what actor could do his look justice these days, and I keep coming up short. Maybe it’s best that he live only in our imaginations.

  29. Cathy Says:

    D.R.: Re-reading Travis, I’m much more observant of him, the scenery and other characters.

    Funny, but as soon as I finished the first page, hell, the first paragraph I remembered the book. Can’t wait until I get to my favorite and not even sure which one it is but I’m sure I’ll recognize it after reading the first paragraph.

    Forgot (above) to close those quotes, too! Hate when that happens.

    Reading with a more critical eye, “characterized by careful, exact evaluation and judgment” not just reading through it quickly. Had to define “critical” because as you know, I find nothing to criticize in JDM’s writing or Travis McGee. You know that, I’m sure.

    Agree with you. I have never been able to think of an actor who could play him well. Yes, my imagination and in my dreams, must suffice. Come up with a suggestion, would welcome to hear it.

    Cheers…from Florida!

    Cathy

  30. Jennifever Says:

    Hi to all, I must tell you I value being a part of this group and discussions. I have read all the books about 4 times now, collecting them all second hand. Sadly I have lent some, Empty Copper sea and Lonely Silver Rain to people with whom I’ve lost touch and didn’t returned them. So I am back to scouring the second hand book shops again. Some time back there were discussions here regarding the movie Darker than Amber with Rod Taylor. I’m not sure if it has already been shared but I have come across 93 minutes of the movie on You tube and offer the link (if that is technically possible/permissible here):

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eROJE2e3Ksk

    I don’t say this is a great film, but there are ‘touches’ of McGee that Rod achieves which I thought were good. As to who now? I’m still thinking about that one.
    Jennifer

  31. Cathy Says:

    Hi Tom:

    You present a great argument, well thought out with examples and solid conclusions.

    Can’t validly argue with anything you said.

    Yes, I know I’m an anomaly but I have sense enough to read the books and realize that they were all written and published beginning in the 1960’s and continuing on into the early 1980’s. JDM set Travis’ personality and who he was early on and his values did not change much that I can see (or read.)

    I guess “hard core” feminists would find fault that women would need help from time to time but men also asked for Travis’ assistance. I’m sorry but perhaps I’m just not that “hard-core” of a feminist. From time to time, we all need some help in life. Sometimes we need more help than at others.

    If someone absconded with something that belonged to me, I wouldn’t hesitate to call a professional. Even a “salvage” expert. If I was threatened, wouldn’t hesitate to call a pro, Travis McGee.

    And Travis always treated women with dignity and respect. However, some people (both men and women) don’t deserve much respect.

    Must compliment you on your recollection of specific people and the adventure where they appeared. Quite amazing to me.

    I’m going on ONLY my third read and like I mentioned to D. R. in another post, I am taking more time paying particular attention to JDM’s writing on Travis’ philosophy.

    Why ever would you think you would not get any comment from your post? It was well-written and posed a question that has come up in previous conversations about Travis and his relationship with women.

    Seems as though you have a nice clear thread of philosophical thoughts yourself, Tom, which were very well expressed by the way.

    With that said, I hope you read an essay written by JDM of a conversation between Travis and Meyer about reading. I was unaware of it until recently when a nice fellow posted it here. The name was Reading for Survival and I did a review of it on Goodreads.com. It’s free for download under D. R.’s review of Free Fall in Crimson.

    Unfortunately, I do not have time to link it here but it’s worth the time to find it. It’s excellent and I think you would enjoy it, if you haven’t already read it.

    If you respond and I don’t immediately reply, please do not think I’m shy. I’ll be away from my computer for a few days.

    Guess you noted that Jennifever has posted a comment elsewhere so I’m not the only woman “taken” by Travis McGee, who I happen to adore. Ask my favorite genre? Mysteries of course. And I love series.

    However, with all the series I have read, no one has taken Travis’ place as my “favorite guy.” Elvis Cole (Robert Crais) is the only guy who has come close. But he’s not surpassed Travis.

    So good to have this conversation via this great blog that D. R. Martin created and maintains. A thanks to him is in order.

    With kind regards, Cathy D.

    • drmar120 Says:

      Cathy, you’re absolutely right. Trav is a creature of the ’60s, and there weren’t many mature men of that era (fictional or nonfictional) who could be called “enlightened.” But as I’ve commented before, he was a transitional figure in crime fiction, between the misogynist “heroes” of Spillane and Prather, and the entirely liberated and monogamous Spenser of the ’70s. He did indeed respect women and treat them fairly, for the most part.

      • Tom mcalpine Says:

        Hello Drmar:

        I read your post to Cathy. While I suppose it is accurate to
        Say that Travis was a creature of the 60s as the first books were published in the 60s, in reality he was not a boomer.
        JDM served in the Second World War and Travis served
        In Korea ( see Nightmare In Pink). That generation lived through the Depression and fought the Second World War.
        Jim was a mature writer almost from the outset. He did not so much respect women as he saw them as people.

        Nor do I view Travis as a transitional figure from Mike Hammer to Spenser. He was more important than those two.
        I believe Travis was the logical successor to Phillip
        Marlowe. He was more introspective than Marlowe
        Although not as much as Spenser whose stream of
        Consciousness dialogues with Susan Silverman make him
        The logical boomer detective and frankly tedious.
        Snappy dialogue does not make for good writing much less
        good reading. Furthermore, most of Spenser’s opponents
        were caricatures. Travis’ villains were truly menacing.
        Think about it.

        JDM did not write only “detective” stories. He was quite capable of writing more serious novels exploring more
        serious themes. But there was usually an undercurrent
        of violence and decay in humanity which he brought with
        him to Travis McGee. We have not seen his like since
        JDM’s death. Nor may we.

        Excuse my philosophying and keep reading.

        Tom

    • Tom mcalpine Says:

      Hello Cathy:

      Thanks for the tip regarding Reading For Survival. I have it and
      have read it. Good stuff. Have a good trip.

      Tom

      • Cathy DuPont Says:

        Hi Tom:

        Sorry, don’t remember getting your comment. I need to re-read Reading for Survival from time to time. Just reread your comments from May 8 and agree with you including your comment re: Spenser.

        Although I’ve enjoyed reading Spenser, I don’t find him the thoughtful, introspective and simply caring man that Travis is. But I will be the first to say, I am biased toward Travis. I freely admit it!

        Yes, trip was wonderful! But, of course, overspent!

        Take care, Cathy

  32. Cathy Says:

    Hi Jennifever!

    Well, aren’t you the person of the month!

    Thanks for posting this YouTube link. Although I don’t have time to view it now, will certainly take a look in the near future.

    I love this site and the discussion. Just so much fun talking to people who love Travis as much (well I do have a unique connection) as I do.

    Glad you got “hooked.” I got the hook in my mouth, stuck hard by the way, in the late 1960’s and could not stop until I had read them all in succession.

    Thanks again, Jennifever and so thoughtful of you to share and post the link. You are the person of the year in my book!

    Cathy D.

  33. Cathy Says:

    Hi D. R.:

    Hadn’t thought of Travis being between Spillane and Parker’s Spenser and how they related to women. I agree with you 100%, he was a transitional guy, wasn’t he? But hadn’t thought about it, drawing comparisons with those two. Eye opening, so thanks for that.

    I recall one young, very young woman (can’t recall book name) who tempted him on the Busted Flush, going topless for much of the ride. Travis, bless his heart, remained a gentleman, letting her just show off, hardly even looking if I remember right. What a pain in the ass I remember her as being.

    He never even touched her, just let her ‘do her thing’ being the young temptress and difficult one at that.

    Being the feminist I have already owned up to being, I would have no problem with the way Travis treated me, none whatsoever.

    I do have one quote I want to post (from The Purple…) on this same subject but may have to wait. Pushing the limits on finishing up and taking off to parts unknown. Will not have access to a computer…too lazy to put laptop in working order.

    Will post when I return.

    Thanks, D. R. and it’s always nice to hear new opinions like voiced by Tom, although I may not agree with them completely.

    Cathy

  34. Daryl Riggs Says:

    In early 1970, as a teenager, I was given a box of books by my high school teacher who was cleaning out a closet. 2 of the books were Travis Mcgee novels, and from that day…I was hooked. After spending 20 years in the US Marine Corps, and been around the world a couple of times, I still reach upon the shelf and pick one out, and settle down with a cold gin and tonic and read….and dream. I dream of saving damsels in distress, drinking Plymouth Gin on the boat while nursing a sore shoulder from the latest go round with a bad guy. I hear the music from the Alabama Tiger and want to go and mingle. I want Meyer to bring me back to sanity with his talk of useless jumble.
    There are men….and then there are MEN. Travis Mcgee, you are one of those.

  35. Riley Morris AKA Daddy 56 from previous comments Says:

    wow Travis lives on.The ultimate man. since all this recent traffic started i grabbed The Dreadful Lemon Sky copyright 1974 from my collection and started it for about the 6th time. I hope Trav and Meyer are putting around some isolated coastal island looking at weathered charts without the irritation of GPS and IPHONES and sipping a cold Tuborg as the sun sets. I took my BUSTED FLUSH license plate off my truck and mounted it on the wall in my shop mainly because i grew weary of trying to explain what it meant to people that will never understand it. Really enjoyed the few times JDM gave his thoughts and feelings on death in several of the books. He had great insight on existence and relationships

  36. Steve Kountz Says:

    You can read: “Reading For Survival” here:

    http://ebookbrowse.com/gdoc.php?id=180730419&url=cb0d1de8011e01d65aef8ba884c89255

  37. Dan Bracewell Says:

    In 1965, I swiped an older sibling’s copy of the Deep Blue Goodbye. I read it again today. Growing up in the 60’s-70’s world of make your own morality, I have lately realized that my compass, more than a few times, came down to “What Would McGee Do?”. I live in Deerfield Beach, last berth Junior Allen’s Play Pen. Here I dated the Cathy Berrys, protected the Patty Devlins (BTW, the maiden name of JDM’s own mother) and after a long stretch of what Travis called sun-timing and fun-timing, I was somehow lucky enough to marry a taller and tougher Chookie McCall. An old man now, I have read a thousand novels, but I am sure that there is no writer who can teach you more than I once learned from John D MacDonald.

    Incidentally, in the 70’s, my sister was a bartender at The Inn Between on Siesta Key, where JDM, living nearby on Anna Maria Island, came often for dinner and drinks. Although his writing meant just as much to her, she treasured the few words exchanged in serving a drink with a smile, and never intruded on his privacy.

  38. Steve Kountz Says:

    I’ve been watching the BBC Series Sherlock. It dawned on me that the “right creative people” could do an updated version of Travis McGee, just as the BBC people did with the updated version of Sherlockn Holmes.

    If one looks at all the twists and turns the different James Bond films have taken over the 50 years (for better or worse), it is still kicking out new films. After waiting and waiting, I like to almost see any type of Travis McGee movie.

    How about you?

    • drmar120 Says:

      I’ve had the same thought, that the Brits would probably do a truer McGee film/tv series than Hollywood. But ain’t gonna happen anytime soon, with DiCaprio doing Blue in the near future. At least he has Lehane doing the script, which is good.

  39. Gerald Roper Says:

    Not sure if I’m too late to join your discussion’s on all things Travis McGee. I’m not a blogger, only because I kinda hate getting into more “on line chatter”, if that makes sense.
    I too am from the 60’s, but read mostly SF & Tarzan, with some Jack London. I missed a lot of good reads.
    Recently, reading Lee Child’ great Jack Reacher novel’s & following him on Facebook, I saw he was writing introduction’ s to a new release of TravisMcGee books. I have always wanted to read them but my docket was full. But to see what Lee had to say I ordered the first five. Now I’m hooked & since Lee didn’t add to his comments in those five I have searched my used bookstores here in Jacksonville (which we are to three now) & started a collection. I am now finishing Pale Grey & have a difficult decision jump to the next one or read one of the hundreds of others. Travis wins most of time. I’ve never read anything like them, other good ones but never better! Since I’m new to JDM, I have just “run across” your comments when I Googled Travis McGee & I’m intrigued by all the comments. I guess your one comment for August sounded as though you were at the end of the “Travis” discussions. If not, should I “bite the bullet” & get into your blog (?!)…..At the end of July you posted the cover of your new book & graphic novel. I bought the free kindle & will look into the graphic novel. (I have all the “Parker” graphics by Darwyn Cook, which are great). Anyway, sorry, if the Travis discussion continues, could you let me know? Thanks, Gerald Roper.

    • drmar120 Says:

      Thanks for your interest in the blog and welcome to the world of Trav and JDM. You’ll find a lot to explore, even after you read all 21 McGees. When I finish him up in the near future, I plan on doing “McGee clones” like Doc Ford. But the McGee material will always be here and I plan on doing an e-book of it later this year. Re. my own books, Johnny Graphic is not a graphic novel, but a kids’ ghost adventure starring a kid named Johnny Graphic. The sequel to that will be out soon. If you enjoy Smoking Ruin, I hope you’ll consider doing an Amazon review.

      • Cathy DuPont Says:

        D. R….great idea, “McGee clones.” As you probably know, Randy Wayne White ‘adores’ JDM and has a funny and personal story about meeting him. I’ve heard him tell it three times and I never tire of it.

    • Cathy DuPont Says:

      Gerald, never too late! And Travis, this is my third time around first reading them in the ’70’s, then about six years ago and started again, about six months ago.

      Love D.R.’s blog here. But he did put up caution that there are spoilers so even now, I read the synopsis after I’ve read the book.

      And D. R.’s book is a MUST READ. It was great; I loved it and still have thoughts about the great hero, Marta…Marty…Smoking Ruin!

      I posted a review (no spoilers) on Amazon and it’s easy to find.

      This is by far my favorite play to go for all things Travis and JDM. Love it here…it’s my home away from home.

  40. Gerald Roper Says:

    Cool! Does anybody say that anymore? I’ve also read “Brass Cupcake”, really enjoyed too. New Reacher book in September, wrote Lee & told him he got me hooked Travis, so Jack might have to wait. I’m also a big Elvis Cole/ Joe Pike fan & I don’t read fast. I will read your book I just “bought” free from kindle (in between Travis readings)& will write you comments. Another big fav of mine, you know him, is Stuart Kaminski’s Lew Fonesca series, which unfortunately died with Mr. Kaminski’s unfortunate death.
    It was so different it was unique & I miss him which I’m sure I’ll miss Travis when I complete them (knowing I can re-read them as I’ve re-read Jack London & Crais & Child is a comfort. O and add the Matt Helm books & there goes your weekend! ) I’m putting off new Jeffrey Archer & Bernard Cornwell & some reprinted Fredric Brown, timetime, argh! Better go, the finale of Pale Grey awaits

  41. Riley Morris Says:

    Just read empty copper sea for 6th or 7th time . There is a paragraph in it about what happens to all your photos you took during your life after you have died.i thought about it and truer words have never been spoken . So I put a huge cork board in my shop and started putting up pictures fom my life and deceased friends on one side and you will not believe the memories of good times it will resurrect.thanks JDM long live Travis McGee

    • Cathy DuPont Says:

      I haven’t gotten to Copper yet on my third read of Travis but will look for that paragraph on photos. Great idea though, and I’m going to do something similar. You may have inspired me to get into my old pix sooner than I was planning.

    • Cathy DuPont Says:

      Oh, Riley…yes on your comment “JDM long live Travis McGee.”

      It’s NOT wrong to be obsessed with Travis McGee. I decided that years ago! He’s my guy and while I do love Elvis Cole (Robert Crais) nobody has ever taken Travis’ place in my heart.

  42. Steve Kountz Says:

    Re: He populated them with relatively ordinary people who found themselves caught in terrible binds—ensnared by their own weaknesses or the traps that others set for them

    That is almost the premise of every Alfred Hitchcock movie, the innocent man caught up larger events outside of his normal scope of life.

  43. John C. Boland Says:

    I came across this blog looking for something else, and it reminds me of an early group of which I was part that did a meticulous, book-by-book discussion of Adam Hall’s Quiller novels. The McGees had a cultish attraction from very early. When I worked on a morning tab in Binghamton in the early 70s, there was a reporter who set himself up out in the county with a “permanent floating house party” after the Alabama Tiger. He imagined himself a rebel–grew his hair long, wore fringed denim–but was actually pretty conventional, though strongly affected by McGee. Reading JDM’s letters to Dan Rowan much later, I was struck by a comment along the lines of so-and-so being one of McGee’s people, or somebody McGee would approve of (we’re out of town, so I can’t dig out the quote). I think MacDonald liked the inside-group aspect of the books’ fan club, although of course it was a pretty big group.

  44. Riley Morris Says:

    What I like about this blog is about once a year there will be flurry of activity about Travis McGee and I wonder if JDM had a clue about how much this cult heroe would mean to so many people a half century later

    • drmar120 Says:

      Actually, these flurries come several times a year. And it’s fun to get people’s comments. Lots of great observations and only once in 5 years has anyone been intemperate in his comments (I ran the post but did a little edit). There are other great McGee blogs out there and in month or two I’m going to do a post on one of them that is quite impressive.

  45. Chuck Ellis Says:

    You all talk like Travis is dead. He is not. JDM is dead. McGee will live as long as the books are read. Grandfather to son to grandson. I have a grandson named Travis. He has not read any color but since his father is a serious fan, he will or will never get the car.
    By the way, how do you all feel about the DiCaprio as Travis, Deep Blue movie?

    • drmar120 Says:

      I’m on record here as not being enthused about DiCaprio. Would’ve preferred someone like Liam Neeson or (before he got too old) Nick Nolte. But DiCaprio has the juice to get a major movie made, so we’ve gotta go with him and hope for the best.

    • Stephen Fisher Says:

      about the same as I feel about height-challenged Tom Cruise playing Reacher…

    • Cathy Says:

      Well, I’m in the minority here, I know, but I think DiCaprio can pull it off. I’ve seen him in so many movies and he’s kindof a chameleon enveloping the character. To me, anyway.

      And please, please, anyone BUT Tom Cruise.

  46. Chuck Ellis Says:

    I agree. Although Reacher was not a bad movie it did seem silly that a little guy could easily beat the hell out of a bunch of big guys. At least DiCaprio is 6 feet and loves the character enough to do the research and reach out for one of the best screenwriters.

  47. Cathy Says:

    Chuck…had to comment on your words “You all talk like Travis is dead. He is not. JDM is dead. McGee will live as long as the books are read.”

    I agree and have said that more than one time…Travis isn’t dead. So there!

  48. starchuck1 Says:

    Saw “Wolf of Wall Street” yesterday and boy was I disappointed. The acting of DiCaprio was good as usual but can’t figure why he did this movie? I can take sex and language but this movie was a bit overdone. I know many that work on Wall Street and this was very highly exaggerated.

  49. George Krimsky Says:

    Having recently entered retirement after 45 years in journalism, I have unashamedly scoured my local library for good new mysteries and thrillers. I used to feel a little guilty about that; I don’t now.

    I can now report that the new crop of crime writers is seriously lacking in many areas – plausibility, character development, place description, good-old story telling, you name it. (OK, I have a found a few gems but they produce what – a book a year? I have too much time on my hands, for God’s sake ….).

    So, I finally said to myself: “Enough of this, I’m going back to John D. MacDonald and Travis McGee. I couldn’t put them down 30 years ago, and I’m going to rediscover why.”

    Now I know why, and I’m hooked again. To lay out my reasons would be like explaining a good joke or what sex is like. It doesn’t work. But I will say this: All the so-called great writers have at some point disappointed me (e.g Steinbeck, Hemingway, Faulkner, Bellow, Vonnegut, Roth etc). Either they over-reached, started believing their own reviews or whatever. JDM never did. He was anchored. You could rely on him.

    We are privileged to have had him working for us. He continues to do so.

  50. Jack Erickson Says:

    I couldn’t agree w/ you more, George. Like you, I read JDM in an earlier time in my reading life, developing a strong bond to his multitude of story telling skills; richly drawn and flawed characters, ingenious plotting, the slow and artful way Travis and Meyer pealed away the layers of deceit and lies to ensnare the villain and dispatch him in always unique and gory ways.

    Too many of todays crime / mystery writers pale in comparison to JDM; paper thin characters, absorb plots, extreme and extraneous violence, and few lessons in life and values learned along the way.
    In my opinion, some foreign writers — the Brits and Scandinavian writers in particular — are advancing the craft of crime writing, often with series featuring more authentic protagonists.

    So like you, I’ll reach into my extensive JDM library to enjoy his earlier novels and the Travis series to experience some of the best crime writing of the 20th century.

  51. chuck ellis Says:

    I was hoping that Philip Seymour Hoffman could be convinced to play Meyer but as of yesterday that now cannot happen.

    • drmar120 Says:

      Incredibly sad, incredibly wasteful. It boggles the mind. The greatest American character actor of his generation. He would have been a terrific Meyer. But I’ve always thought that Saul Rubinek was dead solid perfect for Meyer (just as Theodore Bikel was for a prior generation). Any other thoughts for casting Meyer? P.S. Of course, Meyer isn’t in Blue, so casting him now is probably not going to happen.

  52. Tom Mcalpine Says:

    Since we appear to be hypothesizing, try Paul Giamatti. He really does have the acting chops and he could be dyed and extended
    hair wise.

  53. atcmedia Says:

    I just finished Silver, which was his last McGee and the one in which Travis’ previously unknown daughter, Jean, appeared. All that talk about the trust money he set aside for her gave me chills. Did JDM have a premonition about his impending demise?

    • drmar120 Says:

      It’s really an unanswerable question. JDM certainly had serious health problems. But IMO, I don’t think he was ready to wrap up the McGee chronicles. I think if his health had held up, he would have written No. 22 and beyond. Even though Silver proved an apt ending, why wouldn’t he want McGee to stick around to reflect on the wonderful complication that cropped up at the end of the book? It would provide so much potential for new McGee rumination in the midst of his next salvage project.

  54. Cathy DuPont Says:

    Yeah, I think he meant to wrap things up. Have no basis to say that.

  55. Riley Morris Says:

    Personally I don’t think so I think JDM felt that McGees Florida no longer existed so it was time to slam the big door. Case in point I’m 57 years old and Panama City Florida when I was a little boy was paradise riding down miracle strip with my da looking at the gulf now you can’t see the damn ocean for the condo monsters he was disgusted at what human greed had destroyed Riley Morris

  56. Riley Morris Says:

    That’s my twisted opinion of course my mother was from Florida swamps probably related to the wax wells last name of mcquaig

    • Cathy DuPont Says:

      Riley…we have swamps and McQuaigs, one being a good friend I graduated from HS with here in St. Augustine.

      We have seen the change you talked about but I don’t think JDM would just ‘give up’ and as you said “slam the big door” because his “paradise” is no more.

      But can see JDM feeling like he should close the McGee series if not with Silver then with a next one. He never intended on killing McGee off that’s for sure.

      Just finished Amber for third time around and there’s a lot of philosophizing in that one. Interesting and I read much more carefully this time than I did last time, in part because of this blog and the subjects we talk about.

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