Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Although the McGee novels invariably involved a mystery, they were not detective novels. McGee's business card simply said "salvage consultant" and all his business came by word-of-mouth. Someone who had been deprived of something important, typically by unscrupulous or illegal means, and who had no means to regain it would hire McGee to get it back. His fee was half the value of the item, and those who objected to such a seemingly high fee were reminded that getting back half was better than none at all. Although the missing items were often tangible, such as cash or jewels, in at least one case the object to be regained was a reputation. In several books it was a missing person.
McGee was a self-described "beach bum" who took his retirement in phases, as he lived off the proceeds from his recoveries and only took on new jobs when the stack of cash in his hidden safe was getting low. This life was lived on the houseboat Busted Flush (named for the poker hand with which he won it) that was docked at Slip F-18 at Bahia Mar marina in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Physically, McGee was a big, exceptionally tough man. He had been a professional football player for a year or so in the 1950s with the Detroit Lions before a knee injury forced him into retirement, and for many years afterwards he retained the quickness and agility that allowed him to play at the professional level. He was 6 feet 4 inches tall and, although deceptively slim-looking, had extraordinarily thick, very strong wrists that occasionally served as a deterrent to the more perspicacious of his adversaries as they decided whether to tangle with him or not.
Although a playboy who went through a long string of female companions during the course of the series, McGee had a dispassionate enough view of life to understand what this said about himself. This was part of an introspective nature that frequently appears throughout the series with digressions about American society of the 1960s through 1980s, with particular notice paid to what was happening to the Florida environment.
But unlike previous cynical fictional detectives such as Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe, McGee was not yet world-weary. He still had his sense of outrage. In a classic commentary in Bright Orange for the Shroud, McGee mused, "Now, of course, having failed in every attempt to subdue the Glades by frontal attack, we are slowly killing it off by tapping the River of Grass . In the questionable name of progress, the state in its vast wisdom lets every two-bit developer divert the flow into drag-lined canals that give him 'waterfront' lots to sell. As far north as Corkscrew Swamp, virgin stands of ancient bald cypress are dying. All the area north Copeland had been logged out, and will never come back. As the glades dry, the big fires come with increasing frequency. The ecology is changing with egret colonies dwindling, mullet getting scarce, mangrove dying of new diseases born of dryness." This from a paperback original published in 1965 when environmentalism was barely heard of.
The "detective" McGee did eventually gain a sidekick, but in MacDonald fashion he was not a simple go-fer who would provide a sounding board for the hero's thoughts. The sidekick was known only as Meyer, but he was a respected economist, living on a nearby houseboat at Bahia Mar, first on the John Maynard Keynes and later the Thorstein Veblen. Both were jammed full of books and treatises.
Some world-weariness did eventually creep into McGee, perhaps because the 1960s Florida in which he originated no longer existed. The only direct indication of his age ever given were comments that he had served in the Korean War, and until the 1980s he seemed ageless. But minor recurring characters began to drop away and it became apparent that McGee himself was getting older along with his creator. In later novels such as The Green Ripper and Free Fall in Crimson, there was a sense of desperation that the violence in the world was too senseless to be explained and would never end. Much of that was dissipated with the ending of The Lonely Silver Rain, which while probably not intended as the final volume of the series was able to fittingly serve as such when MacDonald died in 1986. (Rumors of another final McGee novel, possibly narrated by Meyer, entitled A Black Border for McGee and to be published posthumously, have never been confirmed.)
McGee has been called the first great modern Florida adventurer, preceding characters and situations that appeared in novels by authors such as Elmore Leonard, Carl Hiaasen, James W. Hall and Les Standiford . Hiaasen specifically acknowledged his debt in an introduction he wrote for a new edition of The Deep Blue Good-By in 1994, commenting that even though MacDonald was now eight years gone, he believed McGee was still around, probably sipping gin on the deck of the Busted Flush and pondering whatever it was that Florida had become or was becoming.
Two attempts to translate Travis McGee to the movies or television were unsuccessful. Rod Taylor played McGee in Darker Than Amber, released in 1970, while Sam Elliot played him in the television movie The Empty Copper Sea, which aired in 1983.
- The Deep Blue Good-by (1964)
- Nightmare in Pink (1964)
- A Purple Place for Dying (1964)
- The Quick Red Fox (1964)
- A Deadly Shade of Gold (1965)
- Bright Orange for the Shroud (1965)
- Darker than Amber (1966)
- One Fearful Yellow Eye (1968)
- Pale Gray for Guilt (1968)
- The Girl in the Plain Brown Wrapper (1968)
- The Long Lavender Look (1970)
- A Tan and Sandy Silence (1971)
- Dress Her in Indigo (1971)
- The Scarlet Ruse (1973)
- The Turquoise Lament (1973)
- The Dreadful Lemon Sky (1974)
- The Empty Copper Sea (1978)
- The Green Ripper (1979)
- Free Fall in Crimson (1981)
- Cinnamon Skin (1982)
- The Lonely Silver Rain (1984)
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