This is the first of several novels that John Macdonald has written with Travis McGee as a protagonist. Travis, who likes to be called Trav, is a self confessed beach bum, someone who works on special cases only when he runs out of money earned in the earlier case. In the interim, he spends the money earned on entertaining women on his yacht, named Miss Agnes.
The novel carries the marks of the period it was written in, and the state of the genre at that point in time. It is misogynist, has crudely sketched characters that speak melodramatic language and an unconvincing, elaborate plot. Still, it catches the readers attention due to MacDonald’s skills of narrating a story in a lucid manner. He builds the suspense by a first person narrative by McGee, who thinks of himself as a suave, smart, lady-magnet, super fit agent, who knows what life is. The first person narrator builds the antagonist as an exact opposite of himself, crude, dumb, a rapist, who does not know the subtleties of life.
McGee thinks women like him and he knows how to treat women, but the actual events show something else. So one wonders if the whole misogynist narrative is really a world view by the narrator, McGee. Even then it may be difficult for some people to like that kind of worldview.
MacDonald is an expert in describing action and some crucial parts of the book are essentially visual action. No wonder there is a movie planned with Christian Bale and Rosamund Pike in it. McGee’s character is also ideal for a movie, and there are movies made from other books in a series. MacDonald also describes intimate scenes really well, not talking about the action, but around it. It is something I find difficult to do.
In terms of characterization, McGee’s character – whether you like him or not – comes out really well. There are several incidents in the book that allow MacDonald to define the character from multiple sides. Unfortunately, one can not say the same thing about the other characters. Most of them, except possibly Lois, are not sketched so well, and come across as caricatures.
MacDonald has a habit of inserting philosophical and political commentary in the book. It adds some flavor to the book and makes it richer. He comes across as a knowledgeable and humane writers, which makes me feel that the particular tone of the book is a stance he has taken as a viewpoint from the lead character’s perspective.
In short, a likable book if you are going to give a benefit of doubt to MacDonald. I would give it 3.5/5 and would recommend it for people who like thrillers and mysteries of the Raymond Chandler kind. I want to read a few more of his books to understand how a series is built.
(Trivia :- Apparently Sam Elliot acted as Travis McGee in one of the movies. I really want to see that one.)