Re: RARA-AVIS: JDM -- an overview of Travis McGee

From: William Denton (
Date: 10 Jun 2003

On 10 June 2003, Bludis Jack wrote:

: In general, If my one recent reading and my recollection is correct, the
: McGee books followed a predictable paradigm. A wounded bird (female)
: comes to Travis to find something that belongs to her. Someone has
: either stolen it or conned it from her. (side note: The wounded bird is
: often from one of his past books--if not from a past book from McGee's
: pre-series past.)

Your archetypal McGee plot is on the money. For a long time, that was all I remembered about the books, and I stayed away from them. Rereading them, though, I find there are enough variations to keep my interest--as JDM would have planned. McGee and Meyer might find themselves thrown into an adventure when they rescue a woman from a murder attempt, for example. In one book McGee's friend is murdered, and he investigates. In DRESS HER IN INDIGO, McGee and Meyer do a favour for a friend and find out about his daughter's last days in Mexico before she died in a car accident.

McGee's job is to get back what was stolen from you, and for payment, he keeps half. That's how he makes his living, so that's what most of the books are about. It gets him into adventures, it takes him travelling, and it introduces him to at least two very attractive women in each book. Mr. Pelecanos commented a while back on the wish-fulfilment in the McGee books: he's big, smart, tough, he doesn't have a real job, he lives on a boat, and babes dig him. McGee can be fairly lacerating about it sometimes, especially about the wounded birds and why he never wants to get seriously attached to a woman. Mordant self-reflection often crops up.

About the standard plot, I'm reminded of an essay by Umberto Eco, "The Narrative Structure in Fleming:"

     A: M gives a task to Bond
     B: The villain appears (perhaps in vicarious form)
     C: Bond gives a first check to the villain, or the villain gives a
        first check to Bond
     D: 'The girl' shows herself to bond

I bet a similar thing could be done with McGee. He always meets two women, one wordly and one innocent; he cons his way in to get close to the villain; he mulls over his shortcomings and then Meyer cheers him up.


William Denton : Toronto, Canada : : Caveat lector.

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