“The Deep Blue Good-by”: John D. MacDonald

deepbluegoodbye“It’s right up your alley,” the pretty coworker said when she gave me a book, twenty years ago.

What color it was I don’t recall; it wasn’t the deep blue one shown here- maybe it was lime green or yellow. I do remember that the author was John D. MacDonald, and it was a Florida book, mainstream variety. It sat in my bookcase a few years and eventually found its way into the donation bag, unread. My mistake.

After the recent rigor of reading “The Flame Throwers” and other literati books, this is now the reading summer that includes so-called Middle-Grade fiction. Within that is the school of the Hardboiled. I chose Travis McGee as my first hero to read. He’s not a cop and not a private eye nor secret agent. He’s a “salvage consultant,” after the money and the adventure.

I started with first novel of the series. There’s a ton of great stuff, informal real world stuff packed inside, a fair share of it artful description by Trav about himself. The stuff is woven into a simple story of increasing tension featuring one helluva bad guy named Junior Allen. There are Lauderdale dock hounds and various hucksters and drunks. And girls and women. Plenty of women, from South Florida tourist girl bimbos, to yacht candy gals, to a sensible wise friend and dancer type, to victimized trailer park honeys, burger joint waitresses, alkies, and beyond.

The most important female in the book , as it turns out, is Patty Devlan, the young innocente who McGee saves, rescuing her with her virtue in tact. But this is not the girl he gets. She’s way too young. She is solely representative of his moral imperative. He was falling for another one, and she…well, that would tell too much.

McGee is an opinionated narrator, often buttressing his descriptions of people and actions with micro-essays about macro topics. The guy could really use space. He could tell a thousand words in a few hundred. MacDonald wraps in trips to the Texas Rio Valley and to New York, both of which would induce chapters of considerable length from us mortal writers. But MacDonald can give us the Rio Valley in two pages or so. We’re there. He became my kindred spirit. I’ve been to that area and tried to write it numerous times. His depiction is brief, redolent and spot-on.

The novel runs about 300 pages and is loaded with terrific writing. Of the pulp authors I’ve read (and I admire Chandler most) MacDonald’s the consummate professional writer and the most honest one. A detail guy, and an astute observer.

As of last week there’s a bottle of Boodles Gin on the bar table. I’m going to read a few more McGee’s before the summer’s over.  If I had only paid attention to my friend at work…

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