Monday, July 20, 2015

Travis McGee Reads Bluebook

An especially heavy work schedule these past few months has limited my writing time and caused me to exhaust my “backstock” of essays for The Trap of Solid Gold. Things may be a bit sporadic here for the next couple of months as I try and meet my own personal deadline of a weekly Monday morning posting. In the meantime, I offer this brief “discovery.”

I’m currently going through the McGee canon for the umpteenth time, and for the first time in this most enjoyable of endeavors, I’m not reading the books one after the other, but reading other things between the novels. I always enjoy all of the McGee titles, but mixing them up with other works by other authors seems to make each subsequent McGee fresher and more original. As many times as I’ve gone through the titles from Blue to Silver in one gulp, I doubt if I’ll ever tackle the works that way again.

Anyway… I’m currently rereading A Deadly Shade of Gold and came upon a passage which was made a lot more interesting to me after reading and writing about a short story published years earlier.

As I drove back to Bahia Mar I wanted to hold fast to all the small speculations about her, the forlorn erotic fancies, because I knew that as she slipped out of my mind, Sam Taggart would take her place.

And he did, before I was home. I found a slot and then I shoved my hands into my pockets and walked across to the public beach. I walked slowly where the outgoing tide had left the sand damp and hard. The sea and the night sky can make death a small thing. Waves can wash away the most stubborn stains, and the stars do not care one way or the other.

It was a cheap and dirty little death, a dingy way to die. When dawn came, there would be a hundred thousand more souls alive in the world than on the previous day, three quarters of a million more every week. This is the virus theory of mankind. The pretentious virus, never knowing that it is a disease.

Imagine the great ship from a far galaxy which inspects a thousand green planets and then comes to ours and, from on high, looks down at all the scabs, the buzzings, the electronic jabberings, the poisoned air and water, the fetid night glow. A little cave-dwelling virus mutated, slew the things which balanced the ecology, and turned the fair planet sick. An overnight disease, racing and explosive compared with geological time. I think they would be concerned. They would be glad to have caught it in time. By the time of their next inspection, a hundred thousand years hence, this scabrous growth might have infected this whole region of an unimportant galaxy. They would push the button. Too bad. This happens every once in a while. Make a note to re-seed it the next time around, after it has cooled down.

Lofty McGee, shoulders hunched against the cold of the small hours, trying to diminish
the impact of the death of a friend.

This is a remarkably similar thought behind a short story Travis must have read when he was in college, titled “Virus H,” published in the June 1955 issue of Bluebook, and written by a guy named John D MacDonald.


  1. Interesting....I am reading A Deadly Shade of Gold now for the first time (going through McGee in order), and read that section just the other day. From the novels I've read so far, I always enjoy MacDonald's philosophical musings and rants against society. They seem to allow his writing to stretch out and flex muscles.


    I am also mixing the stand alone novels with the McGee series. Not sure what I'll read next, but leaning toward The End of the Night, or Flash of Green.

    1. You won't go wrong with either of those titles, Sal.

  2. Hi Steve: I've read reviews from some readers who say they hate JDM (and Travis McGee) for dropping those pearls of wisdom that you pointed out. All I can say in response is that is one reason why I love reading JDM and the fabulous Travis McGee.

    Thanks for your excellent and thoughtful posts. Cathy

    1. Thanks Cathy. I don't always agree with JDM's "asides" but I always enjoy reading them.

  3. I like JDM a lot and have read all the Travis McGee novels. If I didn't like the series I would have given up after the first couple novels.

    But having said that, I have to admit that sometimes when Travis gets up on his soapbox I start to cringe and I start talking to myself. I guess that's a good thing because it shows the novels are making me think even though I may disagree with what Travis is saying.

    My favorite examples are when Travis starts to act as a sex therapist and he starts to preach about how his sexual healing powers are helping the poor young girls who have some serious mental and personal problems. After Travis is through with them, they usually are cured and healthy again.

    Even back in the 1960's, these scenes rang false to me, and they still do, perhaps even more so. But it seemed to work for Travis but if I ever tried some of his *healing* practices, I'd probably be thrown in jail. But I'm no Travis McGee!

  4. That's funny. I just started through the Travis McGee's again and am on "The Quick Red Fox". But I have a question for you Steve. I live in Dunmore, PA which abuts Scranton so, naturally we identify with Scranton. JDM mentions Scranton in many of his books but always in a pejorative manner. In "Nothing Can Go Wrong" they are going to visit an island which he expects to be "Scranton-South" but which turns out to be quite nice. I wonder if you know of any connections JDM might have had with Scranton over the years. Utica is not too far away. Thanks.

    1. There is no connection that I am aware of, Frank, other than the probability that he and family had to drive through the city on the annual trip from Florida to Piesco Lake and back again. Scranton has been the butt of jokes for as long as I can remember, from talk show comedians in the 1960's to the setting of The Office in our own day. Perhaps JDM was just piling on.

      I, too, have taken note of MacDonald's many references to the city, as my mother's family came from Tunkhannock and I spent many an idyllic summer there when I was young. We never came through Scranton but visited there occasionally. I remember thinking of it as a huge metropolis.