21. The Lonely Silver Rain (Spoiler)

It’s a bittersweet thing, starting to read The Lonely Silver Rain (1985).

Because we readers know something that JDM didn’t realize in creating the 21st novel in this peerless series: That this would be the last adventure for our knight in rusty armor.

After Silver, no more Grendels for McGee to hunt and defeat. No more wounded ladies to heal. No more rhapsodies and Jeremiads on the slow death of Florida’s natural world. No more hair’s-breadth escapes. No more parties aboard the Busted Flush. No more Boodles (or Plymouth) on the rocks at the end of long tropical days. All that comes after Silver is a wordy chat between Trav and Meyer about books and reading—an eccentric epilog that hardly counts. Then, silence.

I can’t say I much like the idea of a world without Trav out there somewhere. Getting on in years, but still hunkered down on the Flush. Perhaps at some obscure little marina in the Keys or up the west coast. Retired from the salvage business—reluctantly collecting Social Security and Medicare—but still available to consult on strategy and tactics. Walking slowly, with two bum knees. Finally settled down with one lady who manages to not get herself murdered, or die of some terrible disease, or wander off out of apathy. We don’t know her name, but we would like her. With frequent visits from a now-white-haired Meyer and others who love him. I guess that we can dream he’s still with us, like Elvis.

As for Silver, I wouldn’t argue the point if you said it was the best of the twenty-one—and an unintentionally apt conclusion to the McGee epic. (I wouldn’t argue if you said the numero uno was Blue or Gray, either.)

The yarn gets under way in typical McGee style, with an old chum coming to our guy for help with a salvage project. It seems that Billy Ingraham’s new, custom, 54-foot cruiser was stolen right out from under his nose—as he and his wife lounged on an isolated Florida beach. It’s been gone for months and no one has been able to find it. Would McGee give it a shot?

Trav’s a little reluctant at first. Locating a boat like this in Florida is like hunting for a particular grain of sand in the Sahara. But an aerial photo of the cruiser gives him an angle. Seen from above, Ingraham’s vessel looks vaguely like an elongated smiley face; a unique configuration. Trav puts an aviator pal on the job, shooting pictures of marinas hither and yon. After peering at thousands of pleasure boats, McGee and Meyer spot the Sundowner. It’s at a tiny marina on Big Pine Key.

Of course, by the time McGee gets to where the boat was when it had its picture taken, it’s gone. He puts his flyer back in the air, cruising the nearby islands and inlets—in case the Sundowner hasn’t gone very far. And they hit pay dirt again. She’s tucked away in some mangroves just a dozen miles northwest.

When Trav arrives on the scene, it’s a horror show. Carrion flies are zooming in and out of the Sundowner, and the stench of death is blooming in the hot, muggy air. Inside are the teenaged boy and girl who stole the boat, and another unknown girl. Clearly, they were involved in some kind of drug deal gone horrifically bad. Our hero vamooses out of there and anonymously notifies the Coast Guard. The Sundowner is ultimately returned to Billy Ingraham, who claws back some of his costs and pays Trav. But this yarn is far from over.

Someone out there figures out the identity of the anonymous tipster. And sends Trav a little letter bomb—that propitiously explodes elsewhere, to the detriment of some young thieves. Then, soon after, Billy Ingraham dies while on holiday in France. Someone slipped a piano wire in through the corner of his eye. The whodunit is solved, more or less, by his widow—a former paramour of top-level Miami drug dealers. She calls an old lover who knows the coke trade. The key to everything is the second dead girl, who turns out to have been the beloved niece of a Peruvian drug lord. Anyone who had anything to do with the Sundowner is now a target for revenge. Trav tries, unsuccessfully, to get a message to the bad guys: “I didn’t do anything! I’m innocent.” But it doesn’t get through. Another attempt is made, and three would-be assassins learn that ol’ Trav’s not to be trifled with.

In the midst of all this, someone’s messing with McGee’s head—leaving strange little gifts for him on the Flush. Pipe cleaners twisted into cat shapes. He can’t make any sense of them, and he sure doesn’t like it.

It takes a trip to the Yucatan with a DEA agent (long story) for Trav to learn who’s behind the hit campaign. Here follows a spoiler of sorts…

The story of the murdered kids is this: The boat thieves carried two loads of coke back from Mexico. The second time, the boy paid the supplier with bogus bills and kept the seventy-five grand that his American boss had given him—thinking himself very clever. His American boss is the son of a major Miami Mafioso and responds by killing the boy and his two companions. Ruffino Marino, Jr., had no idea the second girl has Peruvian drug connections. When he finds out, he tags McGee and Billy Ingraham: Trav and Billy killed the kids as revenge for the boat theft. Then the young Mafia guy sets hit men on them to placate the Peruvians.

McGee manages to get the truth to the people who count, removing himself from the line of fire. And a bloody war breaks out between the old mobsters and the South Americans. In the midst of this chaos, the young mafia guy goes to ground—the one the Peruvians really want. With the help of a mafia hit man who’s on the run because of the mob war, Trav tracks down Marino and delivers him to a friendly lawman tied in a bow. Actually, Trav glues Marino’s hands, thighs, and lips together with super glue. And he makes sure word gets out to the proper people: Here’s where you will find the killer/rapist of the drug lord’s niece.

But the McGee epic is not quite done. There’s one more mystery to solve: Who’s leaving those pipe-cleaner cats? And why?

For the answer to that, you’ll have to read Silver yourself. I wouldn’t dream of spoiling your fun.

By the very end, Trav’s equanimity and optimism have been restored. The Flush is “north up the Waterway to a place where it opens into a broad bay. I have dropped the hooks at a calm anchorage well away from the channel and far enough from the mangrove coast to let the south breeze keep the spring bugs away.” The old barge is packed with friends—partying and drinking and talking. Some of them familiar names from past adventures. Meyer, of course, is present—with cauldrons of his wicked hot chili. Trav’s most recent lady is asleep in the sun.

“I study the amount of tan on her smooth broad back and I peer at the angle of the sun and decide she’s in no danger of burning,” Trav reflects. “In a momentary flash of panic I believe the gaudy boat, the noisy people, everything is dead and gone, imagined long ago and forgotten. It passes.”

What JDM gave us was indeed imagined long ago.

But dead? Gone? Forgotten?

Never!

Travis McGee lives forever!

Now where did I put my copy of The Deep Blue Good-By?

Despite its upbeat ending, most of McGee’s swan song is in a glum, dark mood. Here is a typical rumination, which happily proves premature:

“Too many had gone away and too many had died. Without my realizing it, it had happened so slowly, I had moved a generation away from the beach people. To them I had become a sun-brown rough-looking fellow of an indeterminate age who did not quite understand their dialect, did not share their habits—either sexual or pharmacological—who thought their music unmusical, their lyrics banal and repetitive, a square fellow who read books and wore yesterday’s clothes. But the worst realization was that they bored me. The laughing, clean-limbed lovely young girls were as bright, functional and vapid as cereal boxes. And their young men—all hair and lethargy—were so laid back as to have become immobile. Meyer was increasingly grumpy, and sometimes almost hostile. I couldn’t remember the last time I had tried to stop laughing and couldn’t. I could hang around while the rest of the old friends slid away. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d had twenty people aboard the Flush at the same time. When the green ripper dropped around and took the Alabama Tiger off for permanent and much needed rest, the heirs had sold the ’Bama Gal to a fellow who moved her around to Mobile. For a time ladies of an overwhelmingly female persuasion had stopped by to ask me where the hell the Tiger had gone. I told them he had died smiling, and they had toted him off to the family plot, and the longest floating house party in the world had at last ended. Always, they wept. The party was over.”

 

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26 thoughts on “21. The Lonely Silver Rain (Spoiler)

    • What I like about Blue, Clem, is that JDM’s McGee “pilot” episode–so to speak–establishes the character, the setting, and the genre crisply, cleanly, and vividly. It jumps out of the blocks. As a friend of mine likes to say when he really admires something: “Slick as snot on a doorknob.” If there had never been another McGee story, Blue could stand ably on its own. Does McGee grow and change and, in many ways, improve? Sure. But IMO, Blue is just a terrific read and I like it better than most of the other McGee tales. I mean, isn’t this the story that DiCaprio and Lehane are filming? They could have begun with one of the others. Gray, though, remains my all-time fave. It encapsulates all the best qualities of a McGee adventure.

      • i could go along with Gray myself. i love how he snookered that land syndicate.

        different ones have different memorable qualities. Pink had the single most horrific escape sequence, Trav’s LSD nightmare. Plain Brown Wrapper was beautifully paced, and moved like an express train. Scarlet was unsettling. about the only ones which completely left me cold are Blue and Indigo. but every time you say all these swell things about Blue, i consider re-reading it. i hope i’m wrong.

        thanks.

  1. I can’t help but think, based on the ending, that JDM knew Silver was the last McGee. Why the party with all the old clients at the end? That had never been done before, I read all 21 books, and the passing of the Tiger, symbolizing the partying is over? Some look to his final comments to Meyer, to which Meyer replies, to the effect, ‘Welcome back to the world’ as meaning it wasn’t the end of the series. However, I believe JDM wanted to retire but wanted Travis McGee to live on, as he has.

    A lot of folks have looked for a similar series, in my opinion ‘Reacher’ isn’t it, I would suggest they read Bill Crider’s “Dead On The Island” and see what they think of ‘Truman Smith.’

    Also, there will be a fast paced action adventure/mystery novel, “Curacao” out in early 2014, by long time cop, and Travis McGee/JBM fan, E.L. Baker. Check out the secondary characters from Bahia Mar. Baker said: he will put up free links for all his fellow McGee fans every where he’s allowed,

    • Actually, JDM was actively planning a 22nd McGee, which would probably be the last. It’s in the biography, The Red Hot Typewriter. It was also rumored that he had written several chapters before his final illness, though they have never come to light. And thanks for the tips on Crider (whose Sheriff Dan Rhodes series I admire), and Baker. I’m planning on posting on McGee “clones” going forward.

    • It’s been years since I’ve read the series, although I’ve picked up several Travis novels to sample what is probably the best mystery / crime / lonely agent series for all things honorable.
      But . . . I thought “Green Ripper” was his last Travis? It seemed almost like a stand alone, taking place in northern California near Eureka w/ a scary quasi-religious sect doing all sorts of bad things.
      It wasn’t the best McGee, very melancholy and almost forlorn.
      Can somebody enlighten me?

      • There were three more after Green, Jack. Crimson, Cinnamon, & Silver. I don’t like Green much myself; an outlier in the series. You can read my review of it if you scroll down a bit.

  2. D. R.: This takes me back to reading Silver. I remember it well and at the time (my second reading) knowing it was the last of Travis, I was so sad at the end.

    Of course I read your comments above about his bio stating he was writing #22 but I think that JDM intuitively knew that this was the last Travis. I don’t know how he would know that but it’s just my feeling. Woman’s intuition, I guess.

    And my favs, Blue and Gray and isn’t that funny? Probably another but will identify it (if there is) on my third read. My least fav, Pink and it was my first one read! Blue being my second.

    Always, always, loved to read your wonderful reviews and know this is a bittersweet time for you. But you’ve done something no one else has had the wherewithal to do, so a big thank you from me to you!

    • Thank you, Cathy and Greg, for the kind words. It’s been great fun doing these “reviews” in the style of my old newspaper book reviews. But the blog’s success is due far less to my skills as a reviewer than the timeless content of these 21 (mostly) wonderful tales. No one is much interested in D.R. Martin, but Travis McGee continues to fascinate. And I think we’re on the cusp of a big McGee revival, with the DiCaprio movie coming along and the books reissued as trade paperbacks and audiobooks.

      • Well, D. R., I think you should let those of us who comment here determine whether we’re “much interested” in Mr. Martin. Do appreciate your humility though since it’s seldom seen these days.

        Perhaps a revival coming but as you know, Travis and JDM have never (in my adult life) been far from my consciousness.

        And now in 2013, to find through technology that there are others who feel as strongly as I do about them, makes me feel good.

        Thanks again for all that you have done to bring us together here.

        Your friend, Cathy D.

  3. I just finished revisiting all 21 Travis McGee novels and agree that Silver is an okay ending, if it had to end, but I want more. I stumbled onto your blog while googling “if you liked Travis McGee”. As Cathy D. says above, “to find … that there are others who feel as strongly as I do about them makes me feel good.”

    BTW, the audio books read by Robert Petkoff are excellent.

    • Welcome, Kevin. Glad you could join us. With the McGee movie coming and the books reissued (with audio books to boot), there’s plenty McGee stuff to check into. I want more, too. But we’ll have to be happy with all the McGee “clones” out there. I hope to cover a few of them here. Do you have any you like?

      • Hi D. R….Although you didn’t ask me, one of my favorites is Robert Crais’ Elvis Cole. But maybe I just like him because early Elvis was a witty guy…

        I know there’s another one or two I could suggest but can’t think right now.

        Of course, as you know, I’m so focused on Travis, hard to think of anyone who I would consider a “clone.”

        And to Kevin…welcome to the best site on the internet for Travis McGee. You’re in excellent hands and those of ‘like minds.’

      • I haven’t found any substitutes that come even close to the T. McGee sweet spot; the combination of writing, character, and rants that make you wonder if slip F-17 or F-19 is available.

        I have been enjoying, or rather appreciating, Andrew Vachss’ Burke novels. There have some similarities with the McGee novels. Burke is a professional problem solver and has a loyal group of friends. The stories are first person. However, these are definitely not for everybody! If you don’t know who Vachss is and the work he does, you should read about him or watch his 1993 interview with Oprah. Burke is Vachss’ avenging angel. Unlike T. McGee, you’d never want to meet him.

      • Hi Kevin: Reading a lot of mysteries including PI’s, detectives, etc., been reading Vachss and you’re right, he’s not for everyone. I can’t read him back to back, somewhat depressing.

        Agree with you though, I cannot think of any guys who come close to Travis and JDM’s writing. A class by itself, in my opinion.

      • I agree with you, Cathy and Kevin. But there are a few wannabes who are worth reading. I plan on writing about some of them in months ahead.

      • Oh, yes…D.R. Plenty of those, ‘wannables’ and a lot of them are quite good. But I’m so over comparing Travis to any other guy.

        Early Doc Ford, Randy Wayne White, was good. And RWW thought JDM was the best writer ever. He said so publicly.

      • Having a funky week I could not concentrate on what I was reading…so decided on JDM, Gold and honestly, able to concentrate and read it.

        As soon as it started, I remembered it and it was one of my favorites. Good, really good and so glad about that.

  4. New here, just found you. Wonderful blog! Thank you for hosting this gathering of kindred spirits.
    Agreed, Silver is a sad read, and I too get the sense that JDM may have sensed it was or might be his last.
    I get the same feeling from Ian Fleming’s last book, and Fleming knew the ‘iron crab’ was killing him. It shows.

    I live in Sarasota and have older friends who knew JDM as longtime neighbor and friend on the Key, some of them quite well. He’d had health problems for some time and his untimely death was not a total surprise. ( I would love to read those rumored last chapters. )

    Green is quite dark in a different vein. The last books move from individual wrongdoing to broader societal decay; JDM saw not just Florida but America itself changing horribly and irreversibly for the worse, and it feels almost too much to be borne.

  5. Just finished Silver and the series for, what I’m going to say is, the sixth time. It may be the seventh, sixth or seventh, seventh or eighth; I don’t want to keep saying that. So, sixth it is.

    Except the first time, when I was anticipating #22, I always feel a little sad when finishing up Silver. The book was good and ended the series okay, even if unintentionally.

    Travis is like an old friend and I never tire of listening to him tell his stories. I’ll probably not start the series again soon, but I think I’ll read them in Allan Pratt’s order and see how they flow.

    I’m certainly thankful for this blog and all the fans out there who keep McGee and JDM alive. When I first got my Kindle, whenever I went to the Kindle store, the first thing I would search was “The Deep Blue Goodbye.” I’m sure others did as well and brought Travis McGee to ebooks where I now have my collection at my fingertips.

  6. I completed Silver and the series for the first time. I was ecstatic to find this site as a companion to go to after finishing a McGee novel. As I see from the above comments, I am not alone in holding Gray in high regard.

    • Hello All. I’m always happy to hear that someone new has discovered my favorite guy, Travis.

      I agree with Andrew that JDM had some gut feeling that Silver would (or might) be the last. I can remember years ago finishing Silver and feeling so sad because I had finished the series.

      Little did I know that I would reread them because that’s something I just didn’t do. But now I’m on my third re-read and five books away from finishing. (Of course three times is nothing in this group!) The books are just as fresh and wonderful as I found them to be in my first reading.

      Thanks to D. R. for hosting this site.

  7. I discovered JDM and TM in 1987, I was living in LA and flying back to Florida on business quite a lot. I purchased one of his books in the airport in Miami and to this day I dont recall which one. Its a good 4 hour flight from MIA to LAX, I hate to say it but even in the 80’s and 90’s flying was fun if you were sitting in first class. Needless to say I could not put the book down and finished that friday night when I got back home to LA.

    So I was hooked we didnt have internet back then so luckily there were plenty of used bookstores in LA so I found a few of his first editions paperbacks.

    Now its 2015, I have all of the TM series some in the first edition paperback and one hardback. I have introduced many of my friends to Travis and JDM. So now I find myself looking for authors on Kindle who try to create a character like McGee, but in all honesty none come close. I alwasy will go back and read a original JDM after reading one of the new authors and its like pulling on that 20 y.o. sweatshirt that you know how it feels and its your favorite.

    So I read where the movie is delayed again due to Christian Bales injury. I was so glad when Dicaprio decided not to do the movie. I think we all have it in our minds what Travis McGee looked like and who we think should portray him in the movie.

    So who knows, thanks for this blog and keeping TM alive.

    • We all come to Travis and JDM in different ways, but it seems the two gentleman then stick with us for the rest of our lives—true friends until the end. You’re right that no one has equaled McGee. But still, it is fun to hunt around for some stalwart hero who captures at least a little of the man from Slip F-18. In that regard, I commend Geoffrey Norman’s Morgan Hunt and (selectively) Randy Wayne White’s Doc Ford. I’ll be posting about another McGee Wannabe in the near future.

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