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Tom Chaney No. 13 review: A Deadly Shade of Gold

Of Writers and Their Books No. 13. 15 May 2005. Book review of A Deadly Shade of Gold by John D. McDonald.
The next earlier Tom Chaney column, The Road to Savoyard about writer Eugene W. Newman, whose pen name was Savoyard; and about how Chicken Bristle in Metcalfe Co., KY got its name

By Tom Chaney
Email: Tom Chaney

Slip F-18, Bahia Mar, Fort Lauderdale.

For twenty-one years Travis McGee lived on his houseboat, The Busted Flush - won in a poker game - at Slip F-18, Bahia Mar, Fort Lauderdale. He lived, of course, in the novels of John D. MacDonald (1916-1986). When he ventured forth by land, he drove Miss Agnes, a 1936 Rolls Royce converted to a pickup truck by a previous owner

MacDonald published some forty-plus very good suspense novels before he came to Travis McGee in 1964. Evidently he was either in a writing frenzy or he had been tinkering with Trav to get him right, for he published four of the novels that year.

I thought I knew them all until this past weekend when I found A Deadly Shade of Gold, fifth in the series. Last Saturday my erstwhile partner found a trove of books in an estate in the capital city (Munfordville). We snapped them up after looking them over. I discovered that the taste of the collector had mirrored my own in many ways, including Travis McGee. And there was the one I had not read.

Travis McGee is a kind of Don Quixote - with Miss Agnes as Rocinante, perhaps. He rescues maidens in distress. He punishes evil doers whose evil doing is beyond the reach of the law. He is a recovery expert taking half for his stash of cash hidden aboard the Flush.

Along the way he laments the regimentation of modern life, the despoiling of the environment by too many people living too close together in a too fragile environment.
The bell ringers and the flag fondlers have been busily peddling their notion that to make America Strong, we must march in close and obedient ranks, to the sound of their little tin whistle. The life-adjustment educators in strange alliance with the hucksters of consumer goods, have been doing their damnedest to make us all think alike, look alike, smell alike and die alike, amidst all the pockety-queek of unserviceable home appliances, our armpits astringent, nasal passage clear, insurance program adequate, sex life satisfying retirement assured, medical plan comprehensive, hair free of dandruff, time payments manageable, waistline firm, bowels open.
But McGee finds and celebrates the other vitality, "That rancorous, sardonic, wonderful insistence of the right to dissent, to question, to object, to raise holy hell and, in direst extremity, to laugh the self-appointed squad leaders off the face of the earth with great whoops of dirty disdainful glee. Suppress friction and a machine runs fine. Suppress friction, and a society runs down."

It was, therefore, a delight to find Travis McGee number five. A friend from Trav's past is murdered horribly and left in a pool of blood. McGee and the friend's former lover persue the mystery of his Florida death to Mexico and back to California, avenging the murder, causing the death of the former lover and others involved in the web of intrigue that MacDonald skillfully weaves.

Alone at the end with nothing but the money from the recovery of gold statues taken from his friend, McGee muses
[T]he whole thing had seemed like a long bath in yesterday's dish water. The house lights faded the stars, but I looked up at them and told myself my recent vision of reality had been from a toad's-eye view. The stars, McGee, look down on a world where thousands of 4-H kids are raising prize cattle and sheep . . . . Many good and gentle people have fallen in love this night. At this moment, thousands of women are in labor with the fruit of good marriage . . . . Good men have died today, leaving hearts sick with loss. In quiet rooms young girls are writing poems. People are laughing together in safe places.

You have been on the underside of the world, McGee, but there is a top side too, where there is wonder, innocence, trust, love and gentleness. You made the decision, boy. You live down here, where the animals are, so stay with it.
I take great pleasure in introducing customers to favorite authors. If you come through our doors seeking mystery, you could do much worse than John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee. MacDonald died in 1986, long before I wanted to stop reading his books. Friends in Florida report that Slip F-18, Bahia Mar, Fort Lauderdale stands empty.

Tom Chaney can be found telling stories, planning his next meal, and occasionally selling books at
Box 73 / 111 Water Street
Horse Cave, Kentucky 42749
Email: Tom Chaney

This story was posted on 2010-08-08 09:48:58
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