and I don't have a goddamn fireplace to curl up in front of with a good book while it drizzles outside (Rain? in January? in Canada? Are you shitting me? There ought to be a foot-and-a-half of snow outside by now at least, not this filthy mud.)
So I decided I needed a little Florida on Monday and reread this old favourite while waiting in the car for Mrs. Paperboy to go through a two hour job interview for a job for which she is massively overqualified.
#6 The Deep Blue Goodbye by John D. MacDonald
The first in MacDonald's series of books starring Travis McGee "non-conformist, boat bum, knight in slightly tarnished armour" is, like most of MacDonald's stuff, a 'page-turner' (a cliched term I loathe, but in this case accurate without the negative connotation of something only sold in train stations and airports).
McGee's Florida is a dark and sunny place, full of bikini babes and human sharks. This first one in the long running series, most instalments of which I read before I finished high school, is a bit long on the philosophizing and has a relatively simple plot compared to later works. Some of MacDonald's riffing on sociology and psychology is a bit dated, but like Fleming's James Bond, the strength of the characters, especially the hero, carries the story along very nicely.
MacDonald was already a well established writer, having published dozens of novels and hundreds of short stories in the 50's. He had publishers begging him to write a series featuring the same character for several years before he sat down and wrote not just this first book, but six more besides between 1962 and 1964 featuring "Dallas McGee" - the first book being written three time before he was satisfied with it. The Deep Blue Goodbye sat in the publishers' office while he wrote the rest - just to make sure he could write a series. Of the first seven books written, two were never submitted for publication as MacDonald considered them failures. (Have a look here for a more comprehensive account of the creation of the series). He wrote over a million words before allowing the publishers to go ahead and bring the first book to market. The first three were published in rapid succession with the fourth and fifth close behind. MacDonald kept writing them until his death in 1986 and they continued to top the bestsellers charts.
I don't think they rise quite as high as Chandler's best, but they certainly follow the trail he blazed and the quality of writing is pretty high for the genre, the plots and characters ring true and the philosophical insights are...uh...insightful.
If you've never read any of the 21 (or is it 22?) books featuring Travis McGee, this one is a good place to start.
I've been to the library this week and just had returned to me three big boxes of books I left behind with a friend when I took off for Japan 15 years ago, so there is plenty of grist for the mill. Time to start turning some more pages.