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From The Lonely Silver Rain by John D. MacDonald

I started reading John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee mysteries in high school, and continued right up to the last one, this one, which was published in 1984. MacDonald is pretty well acknowledged as a master in the genre, and now that Mysteries That Take Place In Florida is a genre all its own (think Carl Hiasson, Elmore Leonard, and now even Stephen King), he’s a kind of patriarch. When I went on vacation to Georgia and Florida last week, I took LSR along for the plane. The drift of the story is his recovery of a stolen luxury pleasure cruiser, only to learn that he’s stirred up a hornets’ nest of South American cocaine smugglers.

I’ve given examples of MacDonald’s fine abilities before (Cinammon Skin, I think), and here’s another fine sample:

It had been an oddly aimless year for me. Old friends had died in faraway places. In the spring of the year there had been some weeks shared with a lonely woman. We liked each other. We laughed at the same things. The sex was good. Nothing electric. More like cozy. Lois came down to manage a new heath spa, one of a chain. What we tried to do, out of mutual loneliness, was make more out of the relationship than it could support. Then it becomes pretend, and you are both saying things cribbed from half-forgotten books and plays. So the structure slowly topples over, like vanilla ice cream piled too high. At the end of it there was an obscure impulse to shake hands.

Yes, his morals seem somewhat suspect, at least in regard to sexual mores (and “mores” is definitely the right word; see here for a list), but unlike 007, he knows it. Again and again he knows it, at least in this last book.

Besides the women, there are a few other McGee trademarks. One is the way he earns his money as a “Salvage Consultant”. In the same way he regularly puts it, “Lots of pleasure boats have been disappearing these last few years, Billy. And very few have been recovered. I don’t work on a fee basis. Anything I can recover, I keep half, or half the value.” The other is his address: “My home is aboard the Busted Flush at Slip F-18, Bahia Mar Marina in Fort Lauderdale, and there I intend to stay until finally no one is able to either drink the water or breathe the air.” MacDonald was an observant writer, sometimes cantankerous.

It’s great summer reading. Summer still seems a long ways off here in Seattle, so this could be a good way of getting a head start.


  1. Henri Young says

    I always wanted to read MacDonald. How about a short list of favorites to start with?

  2. Quin Finnegan says

    Hmm… MacDonald wrote a Travis McGee mystery about every year for 20 years, so there’s a lot to choose from. They’ve tended to blur together over the years, although I don’t mean to take anything away from them. The first one is The Deep Blue Goodbye, and it’s good, so I’d probably start there. Long Lavender Look stands out as one of the best. I’m partial to the last two, as I read them when they were first published: Cinammon Skin and Lonely Silver Rain.

    I think they can be read out of sequence except these last two, which are in some ways a coda to the whole series. And there really isn’t a bad one in the bunch. They’re all filled with pithy little observations about modern life, which only seem churlish every so often.

    And he wrote a lot more than just this series; I’ve just picked up A Flash of Green, which is supposed to be one of his best.

  3. Anonymous says

    Just wanted to say that you might want to read Pale Gray for Guilt first as that is the prequel to the final “story of his final book of the series, Lonely Silver Rain.

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