RARA-AVIS: The Girl in the Plain Brown Wrapper

From: William Denton ( buff@pobox.com)
Date: 16 Apr 2003

I'm up to #10 as I reread John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee series: THE GIRL IN THE PLAIN BROWN WRAPPER (1969). It's the worst of them so far, sad to say. It's loose and flabby, the plot is obvious, and the action just doesn't make much sense.

It takes 40 pages for the action to start. Before that we're treated to a marine salvage operation with McGee, Meyer, and some chums while they raise a sunken ship from the ocean floor with some new-fangled foam. Then there's a flashback to how McGee helped a woman, this time an older one, back to mental and physical health. We all know how. McGee gets a letter from the woman written when she was on her deathbed. She asks him to help with her daughter, who has lost her mind, and he goes to see what he can do.

As soon as the situation is explained, it's pretty clear who's behind it and how they're doing it. However, why anyone in the small Florida town puts up with McGee poking around is beyond me. Some bad men try to beat him up, and fail. Some women try to sleep with him, and often succeed.

There's one bit where he's talking to a young black maid at a motel. She pulls a dumb act to get rid of him, and he wants her to speak openly. This is 1968, remember. "Okay, so they had had more than their share of grief from men of my outward stamp, big and white and muscular, sun-darkened and visibly battered in small personal wars. My outward type had knotted a lot of black skulls, tupped a plenitude of black ewes, burned crosses and people in season. They see the outward look and they classify on that basis." "Tupped a plenitude of black ewes"!? I can hardly believe it. Another period bit is when a neurologist says, "This RNA manufactures protein molecules--don't ask me how." They teach that in high school now, but 35 years ago it must still have been a mystery.

McGee often drops articles in descriptions: long muscles of arms, strong dark column of throat, slow thump of heart, lift-clamp of thigh. I wish I hadn't noticed this, because I started keeping an eye out for it, and then imagining McGee ordering breakfast: "Sweet black of coffee. Yellow eye of egg. Buttered crisp of toast. Seedless jelly of blueberry."


William Denton : Toronto, Canada : http://www.miskatonic.org/ : Caveat lector.

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