JOHN D. MACDONALD: An Appreciation

I never knew there were so many colors in the rainbow until I started reading the Travis McGee series by John D. MacDonald.

Starting in 1964 and continuing until a year before his death in 1987, MacDonald wrote 78 books, 21 featuring that Florida knight-errant, Travis McGee.  How I miss him!

Dress Her in Indigo, A Tan and Sandy Silence, The Girl in the Plain Brown Wrapper, The Empty Copper Sea–those are wonderful titles.

The Travis McGee series was, to my knowledge, the first in what now has become a long line of detective fiction from The Sunshine State:  think Elmore Leonard, Carl Hiaasen, Randy Wayne White,  Stuart M. Kaminsky.  But McGee was not only the first to bring us to Fort Lauderdale, he made it his own.

He lived on The Busted Flush, a houseboat he moored at Slip F-18 in the marina, after he won it in a poker game.  That and Miss Agnes, his ancient Rolls Royce, seemed to be his only material possessions.  There was a perpetual party going on at the marina, with lots of sun bunnies, I think they were called, but McGee was never cavalier or uncaring in his sexual adventures.  They may seem a bit hedonistic now, but I don’t think they were.  It was a more innocent time, and McGee and his romantic adventures were part of it.

People in trouble came to McGee–people who had been scammed, abused, tricked out of what was rightfully theirs. McGee was a “court of last resort”; after all other avenues of justice had been tried and been proven inadequate, McGee rode to the rescue.  He asked a percentage of the “salvage,” what he recovered if it had a monetary value, but that’s not why he did what he did.  He was trying, and succeeding in his small way, to right the wrongs of the world.  He was for the underdog, first and foremost.

John D. MacDonald was years ahead of his time in talking about pollution, greed, and overbuilding in his beloved Florida–things we’re all too familiar with today.  But by making Travis McGee his voice, MacDonald made his points powerfully but without preaching.  McGee loved his state, rarely left it, and railed against the things that were changing it for the worse.  McGee did a lot of thinking about the state of the world, and most of it is as true today as it was when it was written.

I don’t know how easy it is to obtain the Travis McGee series, but you will be doing yourself a favor if you try to track down these books.  They take place in a time before computers, cell phones, and the Internet, but that doesn’t matter.  John D. MacDonald created a timeless series for us to enjoy.

You can read more about John D. MacDonald at this web site.

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