The Other JDM: Where Is Janice Gantry?

Whenever you run across a JDM novel with a first-person narration that was written prior to 1964, it’s tempting to speculate whether or not this particular protagonist was one of the prototypes for Travis McGee. That’s certainly the case with Where Is Janice Gantry? (1961). In many ways, the pre-echoes of McGee are fairly strong in this novel.

Sam Brice is a husky ex-pro football player. (Check.) He’s living in Florida. (Check.) An ex-girlfriend is in deep trouble, having vanished under mysterious circumstances. (Check.) He’s determined to get to the bottom of things. (Check.) He has a touchy relationship with the local law. (Check.) He has a brainy pal off whom he bounces ideas. (Check.) He sweeps a gorgeous lady right off her feet. (Check.) He’s pretty darned canny and physically capable, even when he’s bound hand and foot with wire and about to be sent to the bottom of the Caribbean. (Check.) He has a nose for shady characters and crooked plots. (Check.)

Where Is Janice Gantry? jumps off the line of scrimmage when an escaped convict from the local area arrives at Sam’s shack up off the beach. He figures the ex-footballer might be sympathetic and wouldn’t turn him in. Sam lets him recuperate then drops him off in town. Out of curiosity, he stays to see what the escapee is up to. The fellow makes a phone call and by and by along comes someone to pick him up—Sam’s old girlfriend, Janice “Sis” Gantry. Sam tries to follow them but runs afoul of a militant (and dangerously competent) version of Barney Fife. That’s the last anyone sees of Sis.

Sam and his brainy pal think the whole affair has something to do with the mysterious Mr. and Mrs. Weber living a comfortable, isolated life in a big house near the beach—the very same house burglarized two years earlier by the escaped con. Sam connives to meet the lady of the house on the beach, but happens to encounter her sister instead.

The sister, Peggy, is providentially a gorgeous amalgam of Sam’s ex-wife and Sis. Of course, love at first sight ensues and the two of them become allies in figuring out what Peggy’s sister and “husband” are up to. Through some canny and very dangerous detecting work the pair figure out that Peggy’s “brother-in-law” and some hired thugs probably killed Sis and the escaped convict. Why? It seems “Mr. Weber” paid for his retirement by blackmailing powerful politicians up north, while blackmailing his own “wife” with information that would put her in the electric chair. The lovestruck ex-con was attempting to liberate the woman. Both he and Sis ended up sleeping with the fishes.

With a bit of the clumsiness redolent of the early Travis McGee, Sam Brice stupidly sends Peggy back into the lion’s den and stumbles in there himself. Soon, the two of them and the drunken sister are heading out to sea bound and gagged. The boat will be scuttled, prisoners and all, the bad guys will vanish, and no one will be the wiser. Of course, in the meantime, the thugs have “a fate worse than death” planned for the lovely Peggy. But Sam snaps his wire binding, knocks out Peggy’s would-be ravisher not a moment too soon, and they leap into the waves.

But Sam, in the end, is definitively no Trav.

Would Trav run a little insurance adjusting business? Would Trav propose marriage? Would Trav travel north to get vetted by the bride’s family? Would Trav actually get hitched? Would Trav lovingly caress Peggy’s baby bump and wonder dreamily about their little one’s aquatic proclivities?

Heaven forbid!

Nonetheless, Sam Brice surely was part of the R&D JDM unintentionally did for Travis McGee. And for that we should be grateful.




12 thoughts on “The Other JDM: Where Is Janice Gantry?

  1. Hi D.R. Agreed with you about it all. Insurance adjuster, please. Well, agreed with it all so no need to repeat it.

    But I picked up “A Bullet for Cinderella” years ago before I was on Goodreads and that guy did remind me of Travis.

    Published in 1955, I read it about 10 years ago but when I finished I recall saying to myself “he reminds me of Travis in some ways” and to add to it, the woman reminded me of some of the women in Travis’ books.

    Sure enjoy your posts. Thanks for your time and effort.

  2. it’s a terrific story. but the dialogue between Sam and his lady at the end is embarrassingly awful. were someone to write a parody of JDM, the dialogue at the end of this book could be used unedited.

    the dialogue in the later books was much better.

    the only really awful passage to be found in any of the McGee books is in One Fearful Yellow Eye, in which Travis explains, at ponderous length, his philosophy regarding women and commitment. it’s the only time i ever found Trav to be, essentially, a talky buffoon.

    i must admit, it’s a lot easier to write a critical note like this one than it is to write good dialogue.

    • Yeah, it kinda made me gag when I read it. It’s almost as if an editor at one of the women’s magazines of that era was dictating it. I think my least favorite passage in McGee is from Brown, describing sex. Here’s what I wrote: “Even for McGee, some ruminations overstay their welcome. One long paean to the mechanics of sexual intercourse, for example, rather takes the joy—not to mention the emotion—out of this usually enjoyable activity. (The passage is not explicit, just dreary and depressing and overwrought.)”

      • Yellow is one of my favorites of the series, Cathy. it’s terrific. but you’re a woman, and i’d be very interested if you find Travis’ speech as offensive and hamhanded as i do.

      • Hi Clem: I am (for the third time) restoring my 21 TM’s and of course that’s the one I don’t have. I’ll request it through the library then buy it later.

        Yes, you’ve got me really curious now. And one of your favorites, that’s interesting too.

        I’ll be back…per Arnold S., that dog. (Sorry, that slipped.)

      • i’m not a feminist, but there are certain aspects to the treatment of women in popular culture from the late 1960s and earlier which i find embarrassing. Trav’s speech is one of them.

        but heck yeah, “Yellow” is almost unbelievably entertaining. and like all good mysteries, its plot seems impossible to unscramble, yet when all the cards are on the table, it has a sense of inevitability to it. have a good time with it, Cathy, and please don’t forget to post your reaction to McGee’s speech.

      • Hi Clem:

        Picked up Yellow today. I’m looking for Travis’ being a buffoon, talking about women and commitment, right? The last 1/4 of the book? Any idea about where in the book. I’m reading them again in order and haven’t gotten to Yellow yet.

        And of course I’ll post what I think…honestly what I think.

        Thanks, Cathy

      • wish i could help, but most of my paperbacks are in storage. i would guess the offending sequence is about 2/3 of the way through the book. you’ll know it when you see it, trust me.

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