JOHN D. MacDONALD – The Deep Blue Good-By. Trevis McGee #1. Gold Medal k1405, paperback original, 1964. Reprinted many times. J. B. Lippincott, hardcover, 1975.

   I don’t think there’s any reason why we can’t think of Travis McGee as a private eye, is there? Of course he’s not a PI in the traditional sense. He doesn’t have an office with a secretary — rather a 52-foot house boat called the Busted Flush— not does he even have a license. He calls himself a “salvage consultant,” and asks for (and gets) expense money plus 50% of the proceeds accruing from whatever he is able to find that has been lost.

   In this case the daughter of a war vet who never quite made it home wants the money or whatever it was that her father brought home from the war. She assumes that Junior Allen, the man who was her dad’s cell mate at Leavenworth, an out and out villain if ever there was one, came looking for it, loved her for a while until he found it, then left her and took up with another woman.

   Which is where the other part of Travis McGee’s personality and mystique come into play: his self-appointed role as God’s gift to shattered women. This particular aspect of the McGee stories has become more controversial in today’s world than it was in the mid-60s, which is when they began.

   When it comes down to it, even though the trail takes McGee from Miami to New Your City to a small town in Texas, the first adventure a simple one. It all comes to a head back in Miami and a direct confrontation with the aforementioned Mr. Allen, the end of which is twist upon the McGee mystique above [PLOT ALERT!], as he is the one who needs the time and TLC for a full recovery.

   Here are some inner thoughts that Travis McGee has about himself:

   Maybe I was despising that part of myself….What an astonishment these night thoughts would induce in the carefree companions of blithe Travis McGee, that big brown loose-jointed boat bum, that pale-eyed, wire-haired girl-seeker, iconoclast, disbeliever, argufier, that knuckly, scar-tissued reject from a structured society.

   Here is a view he has of one aspect of Miami social life, and the role of some of the women in it.

   These are the playmate years, and they are demonstrably fraudulent. The scene is reputed to be acrawl with adorably amoral bunnies to whom sex is a pleasant social favor. The new culture. And they are indeed present and available, in exhausting quantity, but there is a curious tastelessness about them. A woman who does not guard and treasure herself cannot be of very much value to anyone else. They become a pretty little convenience, like a guest towel…. Only a woman of pride, complexity, and emotional tension is genuinely worth the act of love.

   Here some thoughts that McGee has about his adversary in this book:

A. A. Allen, Junior, came through as a crafty, impulsive, and lucky man. He had gone after the sergeant’s fortune with guile and patience, but now that he had begun to have the use of it, he was recklessly impatient to find his own rather perverse gratifications. Sanity is not an absolute term. Probably, in the five years of imprisonment, what had originally been merely a strong sexual drive had been perverted into a search for victims. He had indulged himself with erotic fantasies of gentle women, force, terror, corruption. Until, finally, the restolen fortune became merely a means to an end, to come out and live the fantasies.

   Here is a rant — I cannot think of a better word to describe it — McGee has about life in modern America, a feature readers came to expect in each and every follow-up novel. There were 20 more to come:

   She looked at me with soft apologetic brown eyes, all dressed in her best to come talk to me. The world had done its best to subdue and humble her, but the edge of her good, tough spirit showed through. I found I had taken an irrational dislike to Junior Allen, that smiling man. And I do not function too well on emotional motivations. I am wary of them. And I am wary of a lot of other things, such as plastic credit cards, payroll deductions, insurance programs, retirement benefits, savings accounts, Green Stamps, time clocks, newspapers, mortgages, sermons, miracle fabrics, deodorants, checklists, time payments, political parties, lending libraries, television, actresses, junior chambers of commerce, pageants, progress, and manifest destiny.

   I am dreary of the whole dreary deadening structured mess we have built into such a glittering top-heavy structure that there is nothing left to see but the glitter, and the brute routines of maintaining it.