Monday, December 6, 2010

Travis McGee Spends a Winter in Illinois

The eighth installment of the Travis McGee series takes place in Chicago rather than in Florida, and thus most of the usual cast, save for McGee himself of course, is MIA. This is not a book that would have endeared MacDonald to the Chicago Chamber of Commerce. The author was obviously not very fond of the city, and through McGee makes some fairly cutting comments about the Windy City and its inhabitants.

For those unfamiliar with the series, McGee is a self-styled "salvage" expert. If someone is defrauded and has no legal recourse, McGee will use his considerable talents to recover what has been lost. His fee is fifty percent of the recovery; expenses come off the top.

In these books there is always a fragile woman who has been badly treated, sometimes physically, sometimes emotionally, and often both. In addition to recovering what has been stolen by the bad guys, it will be McGee's job to restore the poor woman to a state of health and physical well-being--unless, of course, she manages to get killed along the way.

In this case, one of these previously broken birds (the book's description, not mine), Glory Doyle, turns to McGee for help a second time. Her husband, a respected Chicago physician, has recently died and Glory discovers that during the last year of her husband's life, someone had managed to bleed him of his entire fortune. McGee comes to Chicago to chase down the money and punish the evil-doers. In the normal course of things, he will also have to rescue a beautiful but frigid blonde who has no idea why she hates sex. Can McGee cure the poor woman and turn her into a sexual dynamo while at the same time he deals out justice to the bad guys? Is the Pope Catholic?

As the book progresses, we also get a heavy dose of McGee's philosophy as he ponders the mysteries of the universe and the failings of his fellow man. He's particularly hard on Chicago legend Hugh Hefner and the Playboy lifestyle.

This was in its day, one of the most popular mystery/suspense series ever written. But sadly, it has not held up very well over time. One naturally expects that a book that was originally published in 1966 is going to show its age, but these books now sound positively archaic and re-reading them is almost always disappointing. When I first discovered the paperback reprints of these books back in my youth, I devoured them and couldn't wait to find another. Every couple of years or so, I pull one off the shelf, hoping to discover again some of the magic that first drew me to McGee and his adventures. Unhappily, I haven't found it again in a long time. But that won't stop me from trying again in another couple of years.


  1. I remember reading one or two McGee novels when I was in junior high. At that time the idea of his helping the women recover seemed like a nice way to help me recover. The concept hasn't aged well in my mind and I haven't gone back to revisit the books, but it would probably be interesting to do so. Quick reads, at least.

  2. I agree. These books are very much products of their time and place, and reading one of them again can take you back to a very specific time and place in your own life. But they do make you realize how far the society has evolved since the books were written.

  3. It seems like they might be interesting to re-visit as a cultural snapshot, if nothing else.