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Literature / Travis McGee

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Travis McGee is the name of both a mystery series by John D. MacDonald and its lead character, a self-described "salvage consultant" who is based out of Florida and recovers others' property for a fee of 50%.

The series consists of the following:

  1. The Deep Blue Good-by (1964)
  2. Nightmare in Pink (1964)
  3. A Purple Place for Dying (1964)
  4. The Quick Red Fox (1964)
  5. A Deadly Shade of Gold (1965)
  6. Bright Orange for the Shroud (1965)
  7. Darker than Amber (1966)
  8. One Fearful Yellow Eye (1966)
  9. Pale Gray for Guilt (1968)
  10. The Girl in the Plain Brown Wrapper (1968)
  11. Dress Her in Indigo (1969)
  12. The Long Lavender Look (1970)
  13. A Tan and Sandy Silence (1971)
  14. The Scarlet Ruse (1972)
  15. The Turquoise Lament (1973)
  16. The Dreadful Lemon Sky (1974)
  17. The Empty Copper Sea (1978)
  18. The Green Ripper (1979)
  19. Free Fall in Crimson (1981)
  20. Cinnamon Skin (1982)
  21. The Lonely Silver Rain (1984)

The adventures of Travis McGee have been filmed a couple of times:

  • Darker Than Amber, based on the novel of the same name, starred Rod Taylor as Travis.
  • In 1983 veteran director Andrew V. McLaglen made Travis Mc Gee, a TV movie meant as a potential series pilot and starring Sam Elliott. It was based on The Empty Copper Sea.

The series contains examples of:

  • Audit Threat: In The Empty Copper Sea, McGee pulls this on a a bar owner: knowing that health and fire codes are contradictory and therefore he is almost guaranteed to be breaking one of them. This scene was kept in the 1980 Made-for-TV Movie adaptation Travis McGee; a Failed Pilot Episode starring Rod Taylor.
  • Badass Family: Not in MacDonald's novels, but Philip José Farmer included Travis as part of his Wold Newton Family.
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: Zig-zagged. McGee is legitimately an excellent investigator, but he prefers to slack off on his boat. That said, when he does take a case, he will stop at nothing to finish it.
  • Cartwright Curse: Travis has this problem.
  • Character Filibuster: McGee usually takes a chapter or two per book to expose on a major societal ill, such as consumerism or environmental destruction.
  • Chemically-Induced Insanity: In Nightmare in Pink, McGee has a hallucinatory drug slipped into his drink. When he loses control, he's taken into custody by the bad guys and sent to a mental hospital so he can be interrogated and lobotomized.
  • Chivalrous Pervert: Travis himself. Bitter, but utterly a believer in the healing power of good sex, occasionally waxing highly poetic about it. He admits he sleeps with women to make them feel better; he's quieter about the healing effect it has on him as well, being not inclined to discuss his dark past.
  • The Con: Travis and Meyer pull this off masterfully, twice, in Pale Gray for Guilt. First on the smaller but more directly involved villain, whom they convince that Meyer is a Corrupt Corporate Executive who will take a bribe to make a deal for his company's business; then, on the bigger but more distant villain, who they entice with an apparent can't miss insider trading deal.
  • Cool Boat: As noted below, The Busted Flush, Travis' luxurious houseboat. So named because Travis won it in a poker game. He also has a neat little runabout, the Munequita, for short trips.
  • Cool Car: Travis drives Miss Agnes, the world's only custom-made hybrid of a Rolls Royce and a pickup truck. An unknown previous owner did the custom work. Travis named the car after one of his elementary-school teachers because the blue paint job reminded him of the color of her hair. The problem with it is that it's too memorable, so he never drives it on a job.
  • Criminal Procedural: The series includes several adventures in which McGee discovers a con game and plots to take it down with a con of his own. Pale Gray for Guilt and Darker than Amber both show, in particularly impressive and plausible detail, both how the innocent victims got taken and how Travis and his best friend and accomplice Meyer work the big con on the con men.
  • Crusading Widow: Deputy Hazzard pays the ultimate price for his crimes, not at Travis' hands, but by Jan Bannon, widow of the murdered Tush.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Travis feels something for all of his romantic partners, but he has only two True Love s: Puss Killian and Gretel Howard. He ends up with neither.
  • Domestic Abuse: Travis encounters this more than once.
    • Bright Orange for the Shroud: Arthur Wilkinson's wife married him as part of an elaborate scam to defraud him of all his money; she helped her partners in the scam by verbal abuse combined with the Lysistrata Gambit in order to push him into the investments they wanted him to make.
    • Darker Than Amber: Immediately prior to the opening of the story, McGee had been helping a woman get back on her feet after escaping from an emotionally (though not physically) abusive marriage.
    • The Girl in the Plain Brown Wrapper: That the local doctor suffered terrible verbal abuse for many years in his marriage, and was being blackmailed because he had murdered her.
  • Failure Is the Only Option: After clearing up a kidnapping job in which nobody — the kidnapper, the kidnappee, the kidnappee's family — walked away happy with what they got, Travis grouses that they all would have been happier had he never done anything. Meyer responds that sometimes one has no choice but to do the wrong thing, because all of the possible choices are wrong for different reasons.
  • The Fighting Narcissist: In The Green Ripper, Travis mentions one of his opponents always seems to be a bit too much "posing for the non-existent camera". It's just about this guy's only flaw, as he is a really good combat fighter.
  • First Person Narrative: All the novels are told from Travis' perspective. It edges very close to First-Person Smartass and Private Eye Monologue at times, but the depth that MacDonald's talent gives to Travis as a character keeps it from becoming self-parody.
  • Framing the Guilty Party: In Bright Orange for the Shroud, Travis frames Boo Waxwell for the murder-suicide of Crane Watts and his wife — which he had initiated by raping her.
  • Hardboiled Detective: Though not a licensed private investigator (he self-describes himself as a "salvage consultant"), Travis is a detective as dogged, streetsmart, and heavy-drinking as the best of them.
  • Heroic BSoD: Travis has his share, but Meyer suffers one in Free Fall in Crimson so bad that it carries over into the next book. The villain holds him at gunpoint and takes him hostage; Meyer has gotten hurt before, but this is the closest he ever comes to actually dying in one of these adventures, and his self-image is shaken badly by his own lack of fortitude in this situation.
  • Houseboat Hero: The titular character lives on a houseboat called The Busted Flush (he won it in a poker game), parked in Slip F-18, Bahia Mar Marina, Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The marina is real (although there hasn't been a Slip F-18 since their last renovation), and maintains a plaque dedicated to the hero and his chronicler. Most of his friends also live on boats in the community, including his very best friend, Meyer.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: The novels all include a color in the title.
  • If You're So Evil, Eat This Kitten!: In The Green Ripper, Travis tries to join the Church of the Apocrypha, a terrorist religious cult. As part of his Kitten Eating Test he is ordered to shoot someone.
  • Intimate Psychotherapy: Travis almost always ends up providing sexual healing to Damsels in Distress as well as sorting out their material problems.
  • Just Like Robin Hood: Travis runs his salvage operations on a 50-50 split with the victim: "When a man knows his expectation of recovery is zero, recovering half is very attractive." It's averted in Pale Gray For Guilt though — it's only his friend Meyer's intervention that saves McGee from ruining his "professional standing" with an "unadulterated, unselfish, unrewarded effort in behalf of even the grieving widow of an old and true friend."
  • Lawman Gone Bad: Freddy Hazzard, former deputy of the Shawana County Sheriff's Department, was a straight arrow cop who was just a little too handy with a blackjack. The latter trait cost Tush Bannon his life, brought Travis McGee into said county with a thirst for justice, and things go very much more wrong from there for the deputy in Pale Gray for Guilt.
  • Lobotomy: In Nightmare in Pink, McGee is falsely committed to a corrupt mental hospital where the villains plan to lobotomize him to eliminate him as a threat.
  • Long-Running Book Series: 1964 to 1984, with a total of 21 books.
  • Luke, You Are My Father: In The Lonely Silver Rain, Travis learns that he has a daughter, Jean Killian, the result of Travis' affair with the late Puss Killian in Pale Gray for Guilt.
  • No Doubt the Years Have Changed Me: In one novel, a woman fails to recognize a man as someone she had known years earlier (and who had a reason to want to kill her) because he had contracted cancer since she had last seen him. This resulted in him losing vast amounts of weight and shaving his head.
  • The Nondescript: Travis takes full advantage of his own generally unremarkable appearance in his investigations; his height — 6'5" — is literally the only thing most people remember about him. He occasionally puts lifts in his shoes to make it even harder for them to remember anything else.
  • Noodle Incident: Travis's narration is occasionally sprinkled with references to people and events from his past, but almost never in detail. For example, Travis and Tush Bannon became lifelong friends when they played American football together, but it's not clear whether this was high school, college or possibly even pro.
  • Only One Name: Meyer's real full name is never given; in fact, it's never specified if Meyer is his first, last, middle, or nickname.
  • Pants-Positive Safety: Travis mentions in one book that he actually has a pair of pants with a spring-release holster hidden in the right front pocket.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: McGee goes after the worst of the worst, and, though he's only supposed to get back stolen/defrauded property, he often ends up killing his targets.
    • Travis is quite aware of this trope and works hard to avert it whenever possible; in almost every case, he kills strictly in self-defense and his narration usually remarks that It Never Gets Any Easier. In one instance, when he has to kill several people who are part of a terrorist group who would kill him in a second if he didn't agree to help them, he eliminates them all and suffers a Heroic BSoD immediately afterward.
  • Punch-Clock Hero: Travis takes on new cases when he needs the money, and spends the rest of his time taking his retirement "in installments". If you do harm to or take from, or both, one of Travis' friends, though, he will apply his skills and talents to getting payback, and salvage some coin, too, if possible.
  • Ransacked Room: Travis does this to some of the people he's investigating. He also carefully arranges things in his own quarters to alert him if they've been searched.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: In Bright Orange for the Shroud, Travis - who deals with worst of humanity as part of his livelihood - experiences the deepest possible repulsion listening to Boone Waxwell raping Vivian Watts.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Frequently combined with Sophisticated as Hell in the dialogue between Travis and Meyer.
  • Smart People Play Chess: Travis and his Best Friend, the brilliant economist Meyer, often enjoy a game aboard the Busted Flush or on Meyer's equally comfortable boat. Meyer usually wins.
  • Water Torture: Used multiple times.
    • The Deep Blue Good-by: Travis traps a man in the shower and scalds him with the hot water to get him to talk.
    • The Long Lavender Look: After Travis captures the villainess Lilo Perris, ties her up and leaves her unattended, she is interrogated for information offscreen (by putting her head in a bucket of water) and drowned after she gives up the desired information.
  • We Help the Helpless: Travis himself. He usually gives his profession as 'salvage consultant'. His normal fee is the half of value of whatever he is hired to recover; if the client object he's quick to remind them half of the lost property/money is considerably more than none of it. Will occasionally waive the fee entirely For Great Justice.
  • Yank the Dog's Chain: Pretty much the B-plot of every novel, with the exception of the books where it's the A-plot.