John D. MacDonald: The Deep Blue Good-by

McGeeI am wary of a lot of other things, such as plastic credit cards, payroll deductions, insurance programmes, retirement benefits, savings accounts, Green Stamps, time clocks, newspapers, mortgages, sermons, miracle fabrics, deodorants, check lists, time payments, political parties, lending libraries, television actresses, junior chambers of commerce, pageants, progress, and manifest destiny.

Travis McGee is a self-confessed beach bum, who lives on his boat The Busted Flush at Slip F-18, Bahia Mar, Lauderdale. ‘Instead of retiring at sixty, I’m taking it in chunks as I go along.’ He earns a living, when he needs to, as a ‘salvage consultant’, meaning helping people retrieve money or valuables that they can’t get back by legal means. It’s quite a niche profession but he gets by.

In The Deep Blue Good-by, he decides to help a girl called Cathy Kerr, ‘a sandy blonde with an English schoolboy haircut’, get back her father’s ill-gotten wartime loot from a man named Junior Allen, who seduced her before managing to find the treasure and take it away from her.

Junior Allen is no common-or-garden chancer. He is a deeply nasty piece of work, for whom wealth is only a means to inflict more of his vices on the defenceless. Travis quickly tracks him down to the home of Lois Atkinson, another of Allen’s conquests, driven half-mad by malnourishment in her luxury home.

‘I didn’t even feel revulsion towards him. Our think of him as a person. He was a force I had to accept […] It was easier to stay a little bit drunk.’

Allen is the nastiest villain I’ve come across recently and richly deserves his hunting-down by Travis. There’s a very well done horror-movie moment at the end which seems in keeping with his character.

Travis isn’t 100% good himself, although he’d like to be. In common with other noir heroes he does his best to play it straight, but is constantly letting himself down. In his case, it’s women that are his weak point – he seems to be unable to avoid them asking him to go to bed. You know how that is. And oh my God, McGee lives in an incredibly bitter world for someone who sleeps on a boat in Florida with a deep tan that’s hard to carry off in clothes, ‘beach bunnies’ at his beck and call, and nothing to do most of the time. I opened the review with his views on the modern world. Here he is, on bunnies:

They have been taught that if you are sunny, cheery, sincere, group-adjusted, popular, the world is yours, including barbecue pits, charge plates, diaper service, percale sheets, friends for dinner, washer-dryer combinations, colour slides of the kiddies on the home projector, and eternal whimsical romance. So they all come smiling and confident and unskilled into a technician’s world, and in a few years they learn that it is all going to be grinding and brutal and hateful and precarious.

And don’t even get him started on the future.

A man with a credit card is in hock to his own image of himself.
But these are the last remaining years of choice, In the stainless nurseries of the future, the feds will work their way through all the squawling pinkness tattooing a combination tax number and credit number of one wrist.

Still, he parks his nihilistic world-view long enough to trap Junior with the help of a newly-confident Lois Atkinson and some help from a counterfeit jeweller.

McGee is an engaging character and I’m looking forward to reading the next two stories in this anthology, and also the forthcoming film version starring Christian Bale and Rosamund Pike (although this has been delayed as Bale has injured his knee). James Mangold will direct the film, and the script is being written by Dennis Lehane and Scott Frank.

The Deep Blue Good-by
John D. MacDonald
First published in the US by Fawcett Publications Ltd in 1964
McGee Omnibus published by Robert Hale & Company 1975
ISBN: 0709145071
Source: Judd Books

About pastoffences

Past Offences exists to review classic crime and mystery books, with ‘classic’ meaning books originally published before 1987.
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13 Responses to John D. MacDonald: The Deep Blue Good-by

  1. Margot Kinberg says:

    Very glad you enjoyed this one, Rich. I think this series is one of the classics of crime fiction, and I’ve always liked Travis McGee. I hope you’ll enjoy further outings with him.


  2. JJ says:

    Wasn’t aware of the film, might be a good update, though Bale surely isn’t anyone’s idea of Travis McGee — I always had James Garner circa The Magnificent Seven in mind when reading these.

    Oh and from memory the second novel is pretty poor, but things pick up thereafter so don’t lose faith!


    • pastoffences says:

      I was thinking the young Kris Kristofferson, but I can see Bale doing it with a beard. I may have just added the beard in my head though; not sure he’s described as having one in the book.


      • JJ says:

        Yeah, I’ll pay that. Whether they beard him up or not, I’m hoping the movie is set contemporary to the novel. Any modernisation would feel like a cash-grab on the back of Tom Cruise’s Jack Reacher success. What’s that? It is? Noooo, you cynics, you…


  3. realthog says:

    I hadn’t heard about the movie. Much looking forward to it!


    • realthog says:

      Memory, be my friend. Checking my own book just now, I discovered that I’d said: “Darker than Amber (1970) is the only other Travis McGee movie, although there have been reports of plans to film The Deep Blue Good-by (1964), likely under the title Travis McGee.” That was in 2012/13. The movie has been, shall we say, a while in development.


  4. tracybham says:

    I read a lot of these books in my late teens and twenties I guess. Loved them. I plan to read this one before the end of the year. It will be interesting to see how I react to his relationship with women after so many years. I would love to see a movie based on this book. Depending on how they handled it of course.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. J. J. McC. says:

    I’m a big MacDonald fan, but this is the first I’ve heard of a new movie, so thanks for that. I’m skeptical though, as the two previous movie adaptations were awful. I think the McGee books are probably unfilmable because so much depends on McGee’s narrative voice; take that away and what’s left isn’t that great. Also, McGee was usually beardless; it’s his pal Meyer who has a beard.


    • realthog says:

      the two previous movie adaptations were awful

      I wouldn’t say they were awful; just not good as Travis McGee movies. The first had the huge problem of Rod Taylor as Travis; no offense to Taylor fans, but he was absolutely the wrong actor for the part. Sam Elliott is fine as Travis in the second movie, yet it suffers from the fact that the makers so completely misunderstood the Travis Ethos that they shifted the action from Florida to California, the Busted Flush became a natty, expensive yacht, and so on. I’ve always felt the second movie is a reasonably okay movie so long as you can persuade yourself beforehand that it’s not a Travis McGee movie but about some other PI.

      I think the McGee books are probably unfilmable because so much depends on McGee’s narrative voice; take that away and what’s left isn’t that great.

      I’m not sure I go along with you there. So much of Marlowe depends on Marlowe’s narrative voice — the plotting is notoriously often Rube Goldberg — and yet good Marlowe screen adaptations have been made.


      • J. J. McC. says:

        I guess “awful” is too strong a judgment. Let’s say that they’re mediocre movies that are disappointing to a fan of the series. Good point about Chandler as there have been a few good Marlowe movies–such as the original Big Sleep–but a lot of duds, too–such as the remake. I guess there’s a possibility that the new movie might be good, and I’ll probably give it a chance, but I’m not going to get my hopes up too high.


      • JJ says:

        I did not know Sam Elliott had played Travis McGee. Now there’s a good casting choice. Just a shame that it sounds like they got everthing else wrong…


  6. Roger says:

    See you got this from the admirable Judd Books. A bit down Marchmont Street, under the Brunswick Centre, there’s Skoob with some more fine second-hand books.


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