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.

Screen Shot 2016-06-22 at 12.14.24 PM

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.

plate

Screen Shot 2016-06-20 at 8.30.02 AM

JDM’s 100th B-Day Celebrated on Facebook

Screen Shot 2016-06-18 at 4.55.03 PM

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.

ChuckKnief

“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.”

McGee Wannabes: Charles Knief’s Honolulu Tough Guy John Caine

Why most of the McGee-like protagonists who have come along since the mid-1980s haven’t caught on, I cannot say. I’m on record here noting that my particular favorite is Geoffrey Norman’s Morgan Hunt (four books and out). Yet another worthy contender is John Caine, the Honolulu-based tough guy/knight errant of Charles Knief. His four-book series started in 1998 and ended in 2001 with nothing further in evidence.

The first book, Diamond Head, introduces an ex-Navy Seal named John Caine. He lives aboard a sailboat and does odd-job investigations about town. He’s more of a proper gumshoe, with license and all, and not a “recovery consultant.” But it seems his predilection is far less for money and more for tilting at windmills and righting wrongs, à la Trav. He tells his story in first person—always a plus in my book.

51AjOJuHrrL._SX300_BO1,204,203,200_

This debut tale begins when Caine is approached by an old Navy comrade, who is acting as an intermediary for a retired admiral they both served under. The admiral’s beautiful daughter, it seems, was murdered horribly some months earlier on Oahu. He wants Caine to look into the matter. The Navy comrade (the intermediary) makes it clear that the most important factor is keeping the beloved old admiral as free of scandal and shame as possible. Discovering the facts of the daughter’s dark ending is vital, but the deep-sixing of them is far more important.

Beginning with the help of a local power broker (think Chinese Don Corleone), Caine learns that the daughter was into some deep shit with another local gangster, a haole (Hawaiian for “white guy”) named Thompson. Coincidentally, the Chinese crime lord’s son is involved with Thompson, complicating matters for Caine. The upshot is that Caine learns Thompson is producing grimy, gritty porn. And not only porn, but snuff flicks. Rich Japanese men pay to have sex with innocent girls, then murder them on camera.

It turns out the admiral’s daughter was part of that operation. When she developed moral qualms, she herself ended up in a starring role. Job number one for Caine is finding the tapes of the daughter’s death scene and destroying them. Job number two: taking down Thompson with extreme prejudice. Along the way Caine allies with a lady police detective and even has an evening of rumpy-bumpy with her. But his agenda is rather different from hers.

At the heart of Diamond Head are three virtuoso action set pieces that would have done JDM and Travis proud.

In the first, Caine’s attempt to inveigle himself into Thompson’s graces goes rather spectacularly sour. Moreover, it goes sour out on the waves, where he witnesses Thompson toss a young lady (who happens to be a spy for the Chinese godfather) to the sharks. Then it’s Caine’s turn to take a dip among the Great Whites and Tigers. As sharks are circling, Caine takes a bullet in the butt. But the gun he’s secreted down his leg is used to good effect on a shark and the hull of Thompson’s boat.

In set piece two, Caine—still recovering from his bullet wound—tracks Thompson down to a house in the sticks, which is surrounded by cops, including the lady detective. Thompson and his thugs manage to decimate the cops, at which point Caine attacks with a big Ruger Magnum revolver. He’s chased into the cane field, which is lit afire. Singed fore and aft, he just barely stays alive. Along the way he collects a number of the snuff films and leaves them for evidence. The rest go up in flames.

Not least, in the third Caine pursues the bad guy onto the high seas, right into the teeth of an oncoming hurricane. Thompson has the lady detective hostage and now Caine’s top priority becomes her rescue. Much sailor-y derring-do ensues. However improbable, this whole action sequence is riveting stuff.

In the end, the admiral’s reputation is saved, but severe losses are sustained by our hero.

I have no idea whether it was Knief or his publisher who pulled the plug. But it’s a shame that the series didn’t continue in some form or other. It had real potential.

Diamond Head and Knief’s other three Caine novels (Sand Dollars, Emerald Flash, and Silver Sword) are widely available in used paper editions. They’re also available as e-books from a mainstream publisher—signifying, probably, that the rights are not in the author’s hands.

Travis McGee & Me Now in Paperback

 

Coverforblog

 

A couple of years ago I took my twenty-two blog posts about the adventures of Travis McGee and turned them into an e-book. I’m happy to note that it has been a steady seller ever since. Now I’ve put Travis McGee & Me into print. So, if you want to have a paperback copy for ready reference, near your McGee and JDM collection, you now can have it in the form of this slender paperback.

You can order it from Amazon here. To get the book from CreateSpace, click here.

The book will become available for order from other leading online booksellers in coming weeks and I will add a few of them here as they come on line. If your local bookstore has the capacity to order print-on-demand books, you will be able to buy the book there as well.