This post regarding “detective” Travis McGee was written for later inclusion, but events in Paris and Mali have made it too current to wait. As early as 1979, John D. MacDonald had something to say about the situation that engulfs us today.
Travis McGee’s day has come and gone. His Florida, so loved by his readers, has changed until he and Meyer would hardly recognize it. That’s appropriate, in a way, because John D. MacDonald wrote McGee with an elligaic air. McGee was always trying to hang onto a dying way of life, and he did it well for twenty years.
John D. MacDonald was an established writer when he began the series. He took a step that strikes me as extremely prudent; he wrote the first two books of the series before he signed a contract to continue. He wanted to be sure he wouldn’t eventually come to hate McGee.
McGee had a formula. He worked only occasionally, when money ran low; he was a recovery consultant. If you had something taken from you in a manner the law couldn’t touch, he would try to get it back. If he couldn’t, he got nothing; when he recovered something, he kept half. A high percentage, but he was always the last resort. Between jobs, he took his retirement in big chunks while he was young.
It was the greatest schtick any writer ever thought up.
The Green Ripper (a turn on the grim reaper) finds McGee ready to marry after seventeen books of assorted girlfriends, but his fiancee dies suddenly. When it develops that she was assassinated by a mysterious organization, McGee sets out to find and destroy them. An overly familiar setup, certainly, but it works here because it plays against the cool and aloof, somewhat diseangaged character that MacDonald had developed over most of the run of the series.
McGee succeeds in his quest; I don’t think I need to issue a spoiler alert before saying that. What makes this particular book notable is the manner in which it prophesies the future.
Meyer says to McGee, early in the book:
I live in two worlds, yours and the real world. In your world the evil is small scale. It is one on one. I want to reach you before you start any kind of move that will break your heart on a larger scale than you can now conceive of.
But of course, McGee does begin the hunt and enlists in the Church of the Apocrypha – not foreign terrorists, but home grown crazies. He finds himself in training to carry out its mission. He relates a scenario from that training:
Two couples. Casual clothes. Each carried luggage. They walked close and lovingly, laughing and talking together, looking at each other, not at their surroundings. When the whistle blew, they would snatch at the luggage, yank it open, remove an automatic weapon, let the luggage fall to the ground, stand with their backs to each other, leaning against each other, almost, in a little deadly square formation, hold the weapons aiming out in four directions, and revolve slowly.
McGee succeeds. The Church of the Apocrypha is destroyed, violently. The story was grim for 1979; it is still grim today, but no longer surprising or unbelievable. In fact it sounds a lot like this month in Paris and Mali.
Sometimes being a prophet is a lousy job.