If you were reading light-weight thrillers between 1964 and 1985, you might have had John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee novels on your nightstand. He wrote 21 of them, each with a color in its title. I wasn’t reading about Travis McGee 48 years ago because I preferred the novels MacDonald wrote before McGee came along in his old houseboat called the Busted Flush (won in a poker game). The series is similar in depth to the late Stuart Woods’ Stone Barrington novels, though Barrington and McGee are very different personalities.
Nonetheless, McGee novels–told in the first person–had a lot of healthy snark, and many great turns of phrase that would work as the narrator’s voice-over in a noir movie. My favorite MacDonald novel was, in fact, used as the basis for my favorite neo-noir movie. His 1957 novel The Executioners was the basis for “Cape Fear” (1962). (Forget the 1991 remake that was more violent and less true to the novel.)
I’m among those who believe MacDonald turned out better stuff before he created Travis McGee even though he was probably better known for his Florida-based salvage consultant tho recovered lost property for a fee. In many ways, McGee is similar to Robert Galbraith’s Cormoran Strike character who uses old-fashioned detective methods rather than computers to solve crimes Both Strike and McGee interview people and follow up leads.
I suppose my taste leans too much toward noir books and movies that I stayed away from the McGee series until my brother Barry and his wife Mary visited us several days ago and he lent me a copy of The Dreadful Lemon Sky. Since I’m out of factory-fresh news novels, I decided to read it. I feel like a time machine has taken me back 48 years because the novel is anchored in the time in which it was written and–other than Strike–doesn’t fit into the detective genre as we find it today.
If you like told thriller novels, the colorful McGee series titles might be an interesting change of pace. Yet, I have a feeling that reading this one is an anomaly in the space-time continuum and that I won’t be heading out to Amazon to buy any more of them when I reach the end. Nonetheless, it’s held my attention.