The cover is hideous and does no favors to the good fiction writing inside.
Paco Taibo has a natural flair for conciseness and a Hunter Thompson sort of edginess to his observations. His storyline takes place along the US-Mexico borderlands and includes many geocultural details. The plot situations and characters provide local insight into one of the most troubled areas in North America. This is all packaged and put forth by an intelligent and witty author who also happens to be a popular activist, journalist, historian and colorful public figure in his own country.
His lead character, a scarred and one-eyed detective, roams west out in Mexicali and returns east along the SW borderlands to Piedras Negras. He’s looking for an elusive person, a well-drawn femme fatale whose last name happens to be Smith-Corona, like the typewriter. The detective’s mission is mixed with his affection for her.
The more urban milieu is contemporary: foul and clogged with venal druggy characters and mean Federales. The expansive countryside and desert are bleak and ancient, and allow the heart and soul to roam, as exemplified by the singing voice of Tania Libertad (the detective hears her Boleros while in a car going across country).
The story is thematically framed by a Chinaman who jumps the border fence with mystical athleticism, then gets sent back. His leap is repeated like a game, a mockery of the border’s ridiculous attempts at separation.
It’s a mind-expanding trip and a fast read at 120 pages. Perhaps futuristic in that sense.
We’re back on the familiar Busted Flush where a once-pretty and now bedraggled woman in distress visits Travis McGee to launch the storyline. By midbook, the houseboat is in need of patching up and so is our hero. After some sleepy early chapters of investigative type stuff, all hell breaks loose in one surprise paragraph. In between the action MacDonald enables McGee to give us all sorts of affirmations large and small about everyday life in America. Sometimes he drops a topical allusion to ID the timeframe of the story. Example: his 1970s Marantz stereo.
Travis McGee’s brainy friend Meyer has a more visible role as consiglieri, as well as fellow middle-aged exercise buff, gin drinker and panelist during long discussions of American issues. The soapbox dialog of Travis and Meyers (and others) sometimes sounds forced and wooden; for example these lines to a woman who’s visiting the boat:
“Joanna, I don’t know. A fellow who was pretty handy with a boat once said that anything you feel good after is moral. But that implies that the deed is unchanging and the doer is unchanging…”
It goes on for quite a while like that. I wished MacDonald had added a line showing the girl’s eyes spin.
Some of that sort of rhetoric is best left in McGee’s interior monologue, as in the instance when he gives a brief and poignant opinion of how damn little the world cares when we are temporarily knocked out of the picture. Or are gone for good. It’s a succinct mini-essay fine as is, and it would sound, well – dreadful – if misplaced into dialog.
There are a couple more unread McGee’s on the shelf for sometime this summer. They’re good escapist fiction and sure beat what’s on cable.