McGee Wannabes: Bob Morris’s Zack Chasteen

A fictional tough guy who sets up shop as a McGee-type hero can operate in almost any semi-tropical clime, so long as it’s in the U.S. We’ve seen them in California and Hawaii, of course, and Alabama. But Florida has to be preferred. And any wannabe who works in the Sunshine State had better have a deep understanding of where they’re at, with an appreciation of Florida’s unique natural world.

Bob Morris’ Zack Chasteen is just such a McGee-like character. Born and bred in Florida—in what essentially is a coastal palm-tree nursery founded by his grandfather—Zack knows whereof he speaks when he editorializes (McGee-like) on how greedheads have f****d up his world. Like McGee, he was a pro footballer. He played with the Dolphins under Don Shula and before that played for Florida State. After football, he ran charter and fishing boats. But fate intervened and he was framed for a crime, ending up in a federal prison camp.

553098Chasteen’s first adventure, Bahamarama, leaps into action in the very first chapter. Just as Zack is released from prison, he walks out the gate to find two hoods waiting for him—insisting that he take a ride with them in their Escalade. Zack, of course, is reluctant to do so, as he’s expecting a lift from his wealthy girlfriend. And as nice is their ride is, he doesn’t think climbing up into the big black SUV is going to end well. The ex-footballer delivers them a thumping and makes his escape in the limo the girlfriend has sent for him.

It turns out that the drug gangster who framed Zack and got him sent to the federal pen  thinks he still has something of great value. Thus, the offer of a ride in the Escalade. But Zack has absolutely no idea what that something might be. Having escaped the gangster’s thugs once, he’s not so lucky the next time, when they catch up to him at the abandoned family palm nursery. But Zack escapes, killing one of the baddies in the process.

Now Zack wants nothing more than getting out of Dodge and back together with his magazine publisher girlfriend. Without his passport, he manages to get down to Harbour Island, in the Bahamas, where she’s supervising a big photo shoot. And though he sees her from a distance on the beach, he’s not able to connect with her just then. Ominously, she doesn’t turn up that evening or through the night, though she’s supposed to be expecting him. (There’s even a bottle of pricey champagne on melting ice in the hotel room when Zack gets there.) His hunt for her around Harbour Island is in vain. Our hero worries that she’s dumped him for the photographer on the shoot, her ex-fiancé. But the plot thickens considerably the next morning, when the fashion shooter turns up murdered.

Well, it turns out that girlfriend Barbara has been kidnapped, along with an English peer of the realm who lives on Harbour Island. Zack’s thought is that this is pressure coming down on him from the drug gangster who wants back that thing (or things) that he claims Zack has. Zack pursues a long—sometimes plodding—investigation of the kidnapping, with the help of the Harbour Island cop, his own sidekick Boggy, and various supernumeraries. And I don’t think it’s a spoiler here to say that what Zack initially thinks is one crime is in fact two quite unrelated crimes. Some bad luck, huh?

True, the drug gangster wants his McGuffin back and won’t hesitate to kill Zack to get it. But that bad-guy team turns out to have nothing to do with the kidnapping of Barbara and Lord Whatshisface. The kidnappers are a local crew who operate with a certain ham-handedness. So, as the book draws to a close, readers get to enjoy two concluding action set pieces—as Zack and his allies take down the kidnappers first and the drug thugs second.

As I alluded to above, Bahamarama does have a bit of a pacing problem, IMHO. Through the long center of the tale it drags a bit, as Zack plods through his investigative work. And what is one of the book’s strengths—its rich depiction of life on Harbour Island—also becomes one of its weaknesses, as it slows the tempo of the two interlocking (though we don’t know it yet) crime plots.

But in other respects, it’s a good, solid read. Most satisfyingly, Morris gives us a thoughtful, self-reflective hero very much in the McGee lineage. Zack Chasteen is someone it’s enjoyable to spend a few hours with, as he attempts to get his totally messed-up life back in order. He’s no Trav—who else is?—but he’s someone you’d like to know.

Bob Morris published Bahamarama in 2004. It was followed by four other Zack Chasteen novels: Jamaica Me Dead (2005); Bermuda Schwartz (2007); A Deadly Silver Sea (2008); and Baja Florida (2009). The books remain in print as e-books and are widely available in paper from used-book sellers. I contacted Morris through his website regarding any future Zack Chasteen novels, but have not heard back from him.

Guest Post: Plymouth Gin & Me

Blogger’s Note: Throughout the early to middle McGee books, Plymouth Gin is our hero Trav’s favorite tipple. Later on he moved to another brand, I believe Boodles. Here, guest poster Walter Abbott provides some tips for those who would like to try the classic clear English liquor.

By Walter Abbott

Before the internet came along, I had to make do with whatever gin I could buy locally—Beefeaters, Tanqueray, to name a few. Drinking Plymouth was only an impossible dream, although I would ask about it from time to time at the liquor store.

Then in the ’90s, via the internet, I found a store in Houston that would ship to me. It was the first time I had tasted the brand. Ever since, I’ve never run out. And don’t intend to ever again.

I save the Plymouth for when my wife and I travel every few months to the same beach I’ve been going to for sixty years: Panama City Beach, West End near the Bay/Walton county line. Often called “The Redneck Riviera.”

There on the balcony of my condo, overlooking the whitest sand in the entire world, I will crack open Blue, or Copper, or Lavender—whichever one in the sequence is next (I date them as I read them)—and toast JDM and Travis, and all the wonderful words that leap off the pages and into my Theater of the Mind.

It never, ever gets old.

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The evolution of the Plymouth bottle

Plymouth Gin is available online at several stores. Not all the vendors ship to all fifty states, so you have to check via Google Shopping. Worth every penny, no matter the price, in my estimation.

This is the cheapest price, but notice it only ships to about about half the states in the U.S.: http://www.internetwines.com/nsearch.html?query=Plymouth

This is the second cheapest, and it ships to almost the entire country:
http://shop.southlyndale.com/store/

I’ve bought Navy Strength and Original Strength. You can tell the difference in taste between the two. According to the Plymouth website, it is all distilled at Black Friars Distillery in Plymouth using the same recipe since 1793. If that be true, it’s the same stuff JDM enjoyed. http://plymouthgin.com/

A Century of John D. MacDonald

jdmannivshotToday marks the 100th birthday of our favorite author, John Dann MacDonald.

Just as I did two years ago—to celebrate McGee’s 50th anniversary—it’s my intention to find some lakeside watering hole this evening and toast JDM’s memory with a nice Boodles martini on the rocks. I hope that you are all able to do something similar by way of celebration.

And I’d like to think that, a century from today, people will still be celebrating this great American author, and enjoying each and every one of his twenty-one McGee adventures through their neural implants or projected on the backs of their Google-ized eyelids. And they, like us, will wish that they could spend just one tropical evening on the deck of the Busted Flush with Meyer and Trav.

A New Look for the Blog

It’s been over eight years since I posted my first piece on this blog, “Say Hello to Travis McGee.” And right from the start I knew that I wanted to keep things simple, with one of the earliest and plainest of Word Press themes, called “Kubrick.” But truth be told, I’ve gotten a little tired of Kubrick and wanted to freshen up the blog’s look.

So today, Travis McGee & Me is stepping out with a new theme and a new style. It’s called “Twenty Eleven.” It’s also fairly straightforward, but more contemporary, spacious, and (for my old eyes) easier to read. I hope you all like it.

And now, with one final look at trusty ol’ Kubrick, it’s time to move forward.

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News from an Old Friend

I just heard from Kevin Comer—friend of the blog and a frequent guest-poster in 2014 and ’15. He tells me his new house north of Napa in California is nearing completion. So he’ll be finding time again soon to contribute more posts on matters pertaining to JDM and McGee. He also sent along visual evidence of his devotion to the man from Slip F-18—his own auto with a very special custom plate.

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JDM’s 100th B-Day Celebrated on Facebook

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Travis McGee & Me reader Jim Trumm just reminded me that this coming July 24 is the centenary of JDM’s birth. And in that auspicious birthday’s honor, Jim has established a Facebook page for the celebrations. You can visit it by clicking here.

Jim will be putting up new posts on matters pertaining to JDM, as well as reposting items that have appeared here and elsewhere. I know I’ll be checking it out with great interest and hope that you will, too. Be sure to visit and don’t forget to “like” it.

Charles Knief Update

While I was preparing the post immediately below, I managed to find Chuck Knief on Facebook and contacted him. I asked him a few questions about his John Caine books. He sent me a long note about what he’s been up to the last 15 or so years.

It turns out that Chuck made the decision to end the Caine series, not his publisher St. Martin’s Press. It came after a potential deal to turn John Caine/Diamond Head into a TV series fell through, c. 2001. He subsequently spent several years doing contract work for the military—including providing handgun training in various branches of the service. Chuck also owns a construction management company. In 2010 he supervised the construction of the world’s largest MOUT (Military Operations on Urban Terrain)—a 469-acre faux urban environment for training USMC and USN operators. He is just now breaking ground on a hotel project in Los Angeles.

Nonetheless, through the years he has felt the call of the fictional tough guy he left behind.

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“I did have a plot in mind,” Chuck wrote me. “In fact, two plots with titles:  Ruby Dawn, which is half written, and Gold Coast, which is currently being rewritten. Ruby is a total loss thanks to world events. Think Caine in Europe going after Bin Laden. Yep, that was the pre 9/11 plot for Ruby Dawn. Thought with all the time off the job while working for someone else I would have time to complete a novel every three months. Turned out I didn’t have time to write anything at any time about any subject. After a 16-18 hour day, I could barely find my bed.”

Chuck confirmed that the rights to John Caine stories still reside with his publisher. But he was sure he could regain them easily.

“I continually get checks [for the Caine books], but very, very small ones,” he continued.  “I’ve been speaking with Lee Goldberg [for whom Chuck provided information for Lee’s recent novel The Scam (WITH Janet Evanovich)] about Gold Coast, subtitled ‘The Year of the Rat,’ as it takes place in 1972, when Caine returns from his last tour of Vietnam. It’s the prequel for the series. I also have a half-sketched Caine novel that takes place in 2001, starting on 9/11. All of those could be self-pubbed, if I took the time to learn how to do it.”