By the time he published his first Travis McGee paperback half a century ago, John D. MacDonald had written dozens of novels and scores of short stories. He populated them with ordinary people who found themselves in terrible binds—ensnared by their own weaknesses or the traps that others had set for them. Sex, power, greed, corruption, venality, egotism, hatred, heroism, selflessness, stupidity, nobility, and evil itself course powerfully through MacDonald’s tales.
With philosopher/knight-errant Travis McGee, MacDonald undertook an ongoing series devoted to the adventures and musings of one very tough, very smart guy. For McGee, every case was personal. Whether he sortied out from the Busted Flush (his houseboat home) to defend or avenge a friend, or to undertake a salvage project for his fifty percent cut, he brought with him his sense of justice. Righting the balance of things was always important to him.
McGee had the complete toolkit. Crafty, muscular fighting skills. A sort of rough-hewn charm and sexiness. Sharp instincts and reflexes. An intellect capable of untangling thorny problems. A sound understanding of human psychology. The classic hard-boiled PI conscience. The deceptiveness of a good con man. Knowledge of the ways of commerce and politics. And an ability to recruit good people to the cause.
The twenty-one McGee novels have been continuously in print since their original publications. Not only have they been tremendously popular with readers. They have inspired generations of crime fiction writers.
Travis McGee & Me is my book-by-book personal take on the boat bum hero. These essays are partly book reports, and partly my analyses of McGee and his adventures. They originally appeared—sometimes in slightly different versions—in the blog Travis McGee & Me.