Travis McGee: Hero or asshole?

I am reading John D. McDonald’s Travis McGee series again.
Accusations that McGee is a sexist and racist may be countered by the argument that much of the series was written in the sixties.
He does seem to me to be rather callous about starting relationships with women and ending them upon a whim.
Most importantly, his desire to keep his profession out of the newspapers so that he may continue to be a “Salvage Consultant”, aka Con Man, gets a lot of people killed. When his plans for revenge, scams, and money making go awry because he just doesn’t call the cops, folks get killed.
While half is better than nothing, I think I’d stay away from McGee.

I look forward to discussion. :slight_smile:

Never was a huge fan of McGee with all his b.s. righteousness, but man, I love MacDonald’s writing.

Compared to Matt Helm, Mike Hammer, or Mike Shayne the Travis McGee novels were fairly restrained. Hard drinking, hard fighting, and expert cocksman were a fixture in this genre of books. I always thought Travis McGee was a step back from the extreme action men of the 1950’s. John D. MacDonald’d writing was more refined compared to authors like Brett Halliday and Donald Hamilton. MacDonald was a really skilled author.

McGee was an old-fashioned type of man, i.e. an asshole. Pretty cool asshole who got laid a lot, lived on a boat, drove a Rolls Royce pickup truck or something like that, but still kind of an asshole. Some of the Fearless Fosdick syndrome also, the side effects of his self-righteous actions were a lot of people getting hurt and killed.

MacDonald was way ahead of his time regarding respect for women, while at the same time mirroring some aspects of the 60s. His takes on the environment were spot on. The McGee character both gives and takes beatings, which I like. He’s a dick when he needs to be, without apology. That sort of honestly isn’t always appreciated, but since that’s how I operate, I’d get along with him. Talk straight, shoot straighter.

MacDonald wrote better, perhaps, but Matt Helm could beat Travis McGee’s ass (well, he’d just shoot him from three hundred yards) and could drink him under the table.

I have to agree with DummyGladHands. Now, anyway. When I was younger and more foolish I quite liked Travis. At least he told you the way it was.

I’ve always loved the Travis McGee series, in fact my 20-something son is named Travis after you-know-who. There is one of the series I haven’t read (can’t recall the name right now) but I look foreward to finding a copy on a dusty shelf in a used bookstore someday and enjoying for the last time the feeling of opening a new (to me) T. McGee novel. Having said that, they do sound a bit dated by now. And while there is certainly more than a bit of the con man in McGee’s makeup I think it’s more accurate to call him a high-class bounty hunter.

The charges of “racist” don’t make much sense…The stories are mostly set in the deep South, in the 60’s but several of them make it plain that McGee had cultivated long-standing friendships in the Black, Mexican and Puerto Rican communities - at a time when that was not really common. He may even have been a bit ahead of his time in this regard. Sexist? Well, he certainly tups his share of wenches, but it always seemed that the ladies came onto him instead of the other way around. If McGee was a male chauvinist oinker a whole bunch of babes didn’t seem to mind :wink: Heck, he sometimes got laid four or five times in one fairly short book.

T. McGee was no white-hat two-dimensional character, he was lazy, moody, sometimes dishonest, “wary of all forms of permanence”, unlikely to ever have a golf handicap or be elected to public office, afraid of commitment, and had several shortcomings as well. Overall, I think John D. McDonald (within the limits of the genre) drew a very believable and sympathetic character, which probably accounts for the books lasting popularity.

Incidentally, McDonald was an amazingly prolific author, and wrote a lot more than just the McGee series. Some of his other books are quite good as well… Please Write for Details and Condominium come especially to mind.

Matt Helm was a really good sniper and spy. :wink: That rifle got hm out of a lot of trouble. I love this genre and have read quite a few in the Travis McGee series. There’s a few I never got around too. I’ll get to them all eventually.

Matt was working for Uncle Sam, er, well, Mac, and Trav was working for Travis McGee. :slight_smile:

A pleasure to find Hamilton readers!

Perhaps I should accuse MacDonald of being a racist, but again, it is a thing of the time. He was probably quite liberal for the time.

Is Florida the deep South? I think more on nearby Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia.
I see Florida as more of a resort and gangster paradise, as in Bogart’s Key Largo.

Florida is a strange place where the further North you go, the more Southern it gets.

McGee was a friend to everyone, regardless of race, color, or creed—unless, of course, the other person was a low-life, in which case he had no sympathy for him/her whatsoever (in The Scarlet Ruse, he realized he was sleeping with a murderer and didn’t shed a tear when she bought it). And yeah, the chicks came to him; he never had to coerce any of them into having sex. When they did end up in the sack, it was entirely by mutual consent.

All in all, a man I’d look up to!

Wow… in these “Travis McGee” novels y’all have been reading… what color is the sky? (And no, don’t say “a dreadful lemon color.”)

Seriously, I can’t connect many of these comments to the novel series, which I know forwards and backwards for reasons beyond being a reader/fan. They strike me much like the simplistic “Heinlein is a fascist” strain of literary crit - stemming from a shallow reading of part of the series.

McGee is a racist? You’ve got to be kidding. As terentii put it, McGee was a friend to all those worthy of being a friend, and a terror to those who weren’t… but race never came into the picture. There are several novels in the late 1960s where he deals with “Darktown” - the black side of town where the servants and manual laborers come from - and his descriptions and attitude are less than 2014-PC, but the observations are true to the era and expressed from the viewpoint of a character born ca. 1930 and an author born in 1916. The country as a whole was coming to terms with civil rights in that era and while his words are painfully earnest and clunky from way out here, I can’t think of a single sentence from or describing McGee that says “racist.”

McGee uses and dumps women? Name one. I can’t think of an instance that doesn’t fall into one of these categories:

[li]The woman dies, leaving McGee heartbroken.[/li][li]The woman leaves, leaving McGee heartbroken.[/li][li]The relationship drifts to a mutual-disinterest end but They Remain Friends.[/li][li]The relationship is a one-time affair but They Remain Friends.[/li][li]The woman is filthy rich in some way and wants McGee to abandon his lifestyle to be her pet. He says no.[/li][li]The relationship is tied to the story line and the woman is (or turns out to be) one of the bad guys - to be used like any other asset in resolving the case.[/li][li]The relationship is a one-time or short-time affair with some form of “beach girl,” little or no emotional involvement.[/li][/ul]
You could argue that the many incidences of the last are “using” and/or “dumping” women, but I don’t recall a one that was heartbroken or even emotionally impacted by moving on to the next beach stud. You could get deeper into the culture of that kind of sex in that era - fictional, real, Playboy, imaginary or historical - but in any case McDonald made McGee a creature of that time and place… and Travis was often left with a case of the guilts and the lonelies when he indulged in the “pretty plastic ladies.”
McGee gets people around him killed because of his ego and limitations, or some such? Maybe. These are thriller crime novels. The stories are usually set up so that those involved have no alternative - going to the police or simply getting on a jet plane to wherever is not an option. There are lives, fortunes, children and sometimes larger victims at stake, and McGee is their best chance at survival and success. Accepting that these are fictional setups, list the situations where McGee’s ego, by itself or in very large part, got someone needlessly killed or damaged.
His desire to keep a low profile rarely (I’m tempted to say “never”) got anyone killed; that card usually came into play after the mayhem, when he was dealing with The Smart Cop to nail The Bad Guy at the cost of covering up some of his illegal acts. Name an instance where his desire for anonymity directly led to a Good Guy’s death or damage.
As others have said, McGee is a fascinatingly complex character, especially for the time and genre, and anything but a pure white hat. He was lazy, misanthropic, misogynist in some cases, surly, lonely, a borderline drunk and convinced that his worldview trumped all others. That can add up to ‘asshole’ - but I think in the end he’s far more small-time hero, and I find his (McDonald’s) many asides and ruminations about society and the world amusing and challenging. I can see how younger readers might find his comments tedious and out of sync… but those, as with the whole series, have to - have to - be judged in context of the times. You can’t condemn a 1964, or 1968, or 1974, or even 1980 character for not conforming to 2014-think, any more than you can condemn Huck Finn for the blatantly racist aspects of his speech and actions.

A choking, eye burning brown, the regurgitation of chemical factories. :slight_smile:
I believe it is A Tan and Sandy Silence where the waitress he falls in love with wants to go to the cops, he explains that he can’t work if he is known, and she gets wired to a tree and killed.

Certainly not racist by the standards of the time, but I recall a Black woman whose character seems to indicate that African Americans have an alternate personality them use to fool “White Folks”.

For the win. :smiley:

The Long Lavender Look, and you’re right. I could probably make a case that there few other possibilities, and that her death was a key element in McGee surviving, and that the only other likely outcome would be for both of them to end up buried in the piney woods. But yes, McGee’s actions pretty much led directly to Betsy’s death. His alternative was to be conclusively framed for murder.

And you think that’s not realistic? Especially for any time up to the 1970s? He brings up that point in several novels, and I seem to recall reading descriptions of just that behavior in much more serious works, some by AA’s who were there - Baldwin, Ellison, Wright, Morrison…

Well said, AB. That saved me some typing.

Big fan of Travis. Nothing to say that hasn’t already been said, but… I see Don Hamilton as every bit a skilled prose stylist as McDonald. Matt Helm is crueler, more callous perhaps, much more misogynistic, but no less nuanced.

It’s interesting that Playboy is mentioned. I read an article once on Hugh Hefner that basically said “He thought about how he wanted to live and then went ahead and did it.” I think the same can be said of Travis McGee. Why wait twenty years or more for your retirement when you can have it today?

I dunno, something about ants and grasshoppers. :slight_smile:
Of course, Travis’ theory was that he would be killed during a recovery, so what the hell?

There is more description and allusion in MacDonald’s writing than Hamilton, but Helm is just as fleshed out as McGee, with perhaps more background.

Wanting to marry Travis is just as bad as marrying a Cartwright. :slight_smile: