Saturday, March 15, 2014


I finished reading (for the second time) THE DEEP BLUE GOOD-BY (1964) yesterday. This is the first of twenty-one Travis McGee novels that John D. MacDonald wrote over the course of his long and illustrious writing career.

As stated in my previous post, my first McGee novel (and first MacDonald book) was THE EMPTY COPPER SEA. I eventually read all of the McGee novels but not in strict chronological order. I'm not sure that it's entirely necessary to read them in order and reading them out of order as I did certainly didn't lessen my enjoyment of the books. But if you've never read a Travis McGee novel, it's probably best that you start here. Oh, and whatever you do, try and save the last book in the series, THE LONELY SILVER RAIN, for last. You'll appreciate it much more if you do.

DEEP BLUE introduces Travis McGee, self-styled "salvage expert" taking his retirement in chunks while living on a houseboat in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Most of the elements of the series are established here: the houseboat itself (The Busted Flush) and how McGee acquired it, Miss Agnes (McGee's unique Rolls Royce/pickup truck hybrid), his neighbor, the Alabama Tiger and a bevy of assorted beach girls.

McGee is not a private detective. Instead,when he runs short of money, he takes on "salvage" jobs in which he helps victims who have had something of valuable stolen or taken from them by less than legal methods. McGee's terms are that he'll get the item or items back and keep half of the value of said item as payment.

In DEEP BLUE McGee is on the hunt for a small fortune in gemstones, illegally obtained by an Army pilot in WWII. The hidden cache of jewels have been found by one Junior Allen, a smiling sadist and one of the best villains ever created by John D. MacDonald. McGee comes to the rescue of Lois Atkinson, a woman victimized by Allen. He nurses her back to life and health over the course of several days using what I have come to refer to as"McGee's magic dick". I don't mean any disrespect for MacDonald and his work but in almost every Travis McGee novel, McGee beds a troubled woman and restores her to vitality after their lovemaking. But that's a minor quibble and it doesn't impede my enjoyment of this and all of the Travis McGee novels.

MacDonald spins a great yarn here, slowly building to a nerve-racking battle to the death between McGee and Allen aboard a yacht at sea in the middle of a midnight storm. And while McGee ultimately emerges victorious, he pays a heavy price for winning this battle. In addition to the well-plotted mystery aspects of the book, DEEP BLUE is full of McGee's ruminations on modern life and his likes and dislikes. MacDonald imbued McGee with a very distinctive world view and it's his "voice" (the McGee novels are all in first person) that give this series such a rich and complex texture.

If you've never met Travis McGee, you need to do so, immediately. Thanks to Random House for their reissuing of the McGee series and other stand alone novels by MacDonald in handsome new trade paperback editions, you now have the chance to experience the works of one of the greatest post war American authors, mystery or otherwise. Yes, John D. MacDonald is that good.

 Start here. You won't be disappointed.


  1. In my humble opinion, The Deep Blue Good-By is a remarkable piece of work by whatever standards you’d like to apply. I’m not talking about McGee’s comic book like superhero antics in subduing and killing Junior Allen (after all, one of the main purposes of this kind of fiction is to entertain); rather, the intricacy of the plotting, the razorsharp characterizations, the finely tuned and highly observant sense of place (which MacDonald fails with, somewhat, in the McGee novels that he moves outside of Florida), the observations and ruminations of McGee – these are all superb, even amazing.

  2. Thanks for your comments Elizabeth. I think John D. MacDonald was a truly great American writer. I've read all of his books at least once and I'm looking forward to re-reading them again after thirty years.

  3. And MacDonald takes chances. His descriptions of, and explanations for, the way Junior Allen makes both Cathy Kerr and Lois Atkinson essentially his willing, nymphomaniac sex slaves will make every self respecting academic feminist in the world scream in protest. And he scalds George Brell with 180 degree water to get information out of him, so surely the sadist charge is awaiting somewhere.