Travis McGee

When I was about 16-years-old, somebody handed me a novel called “The Green Ripper,” by John D. MacDonald. Up until that point, I mainly read fantasy or science fiction, so reading a mystery-type novel was a new thing for me. I let it sit for a few days before I finally picked it up. It was about 8 hours later that I put it down. I was hooked.

The main character was named Travis McGee and I was happy to find out there was a whole series written about him. I set out to read all of them, starting obviously with the first book in the series, “The Deep Blue Good-by.” Even though the character and the times are definitely dated, they were wonderful books to read and set my imagination on fire. I wanted to live just like Travis McGee!

Travis McGee was a big lanky beach bum (everything I’m not) who lived on a houseboat docked at Slip F-18 at the Bahia Mar marina in Fort Lauderdale named The Busted Flush. He was a self-styled “salvage consultant” who would recover things for people for 50% of the recovery. If you want to picture the character in your mind, a movie was made in the 70s or 80s that starred Sam Elliot as Travis McGee. It was a made-for-tv movie and I have yet to find a copy of it. Of course, Sam Elliot kept his mustache for the movie and Travis McGee was clean-shaven. They also moved the locale for the character to California instead of Florida, which took away from a lot of Florida-like issues that McGee talked about…I didn’t like that change.

Travis McGee was a hit with the ladies but was always honest about his role in every relationship. It also seemed like every woman he became close with died, not entirely true, but close. He was very deep-thinking and would often have complicated philosophical discussions with his best friend, Meyer, who lived on a boat nearby.

Every one of the novels has a color in its name. Blue, green, indigo, crimson, and so on. Before he died, John D. MacDonald had written 21 Travis McGee novels in all. He also wrote hundreds of other novels, most notably “Condominium” and “One More Sunday.” The movie “Cape Fear” was also based on one of his novels. He was a very prolific writer and you could expect at least a book a year, sometimes two.

There’s lots of action to offset the introspective moments and both are good and necessary for the novel development. Unlike other novels in the genre, Travis McGee’s weaknesses are on full display and he gets hurt often, or those around him get hurt often. When it becomes personal for him, the bad guys really get hurt often.

I mentioned earlier that I wanted to be just like Travis McGee when I was younger. He lived on a boat…so I wanted to live on a boat. He traveled around to defeat bad guys…so I wanted to travel around and defeat bad guys. He lived a life on his own terms…so I wanted to live life on my own terms. The problem with fiction is just that, its fiction. There was no way I could suddenly grow a half a foot and suddenly be able to fight bad guys.

ME: I’m gonna beat you up!

BAD GUY (looking down at me): Um, can you even reach my jaw?

ME: No, but you’ll wish you had kneecaps before I’m finished with you!

BAD GUY: Ok, then…

Even though I could never be Travis McGee, I could still live in his world by reading his books. Unfortunately, or not, I have a habit of naming things after book characters. When I was young, I had two cats named Merry and Pippin (from the Lord of the Rings), a dog named Vonnegut, and a son named after a favorite character of mine from a book series I may or may not have mentioned…

I’m not going to say too much more because I’d love to encourage you to read at least one of the Travis McGee novels and make your own determination. Give it at least 15 minutes and before you know it, you’ll be deep into the novel and invested in its outcome.


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