RARA-AVIS: JDM: One Fearful Yellow Eye (1966); The Turquoise Lament (1973); The Lonely Silver Rain (1985)

From: K Montin ( kmontin@total.net)
Date: 11 Jul 2003

As usual, I'm a little behind. I read these in June, but didn't get around to doing the write-ups until now.

Reading these three books one after the other, I was pleasantly surprised to find that they were not nearly as formulaic as I feared they might be. Sure, there's always the damsel in distress, and Travis plays the knight errant, but there was enough variation to keep me from knowing exactly how it would all play out. I was also surprised to find Travis moving outside Florida a great deal of the time. He doesn't age in real time, but he does age somehow. By 1985 he is questioning whether he has made the right choices in life.

I would say that the books are not noir, but they are pretty hardboiled. There are a lot of violent deaths and some torture, but McGee himself never kills anyone (although he get pretty close). He does gets into a fair number of fistfights.

In One Fearful Yellow Eye, much of the action takes place in Chicago, where Glory Doyle, "one of the broken birds," had moved after marrying a rich old man. (There are actually two broken birds, Travis's term, in this book.) On her husband's death, she discovers that he had liquidated his assets and disposed of all the cash in the last year and half before dying. She wants to know where the money went and why, and she wouldn't mind getting it back, either. It seem obvious someone was blackmailing him, but the details are a little complicated. There is strange mix of characters involved, including some Nazi war criminals with a sadistic bent. Ultimately, however, I found the original grounds for blackmail less than convincing. The big secret--that Glory's husband had fathered a child out of wedlock--was known to everyone who mattered, including Glory, and is revealed right away to the reader. The young woman was underage at the time, but their relationship was consensual and her mother married her off. The statute of limitations must have run out by the time the story starts, and anyway he was in the last stages of a fatal illness. He was not likely to have been prosecuted. So why pay out $600,000? It didn't really make sense. (According to the copyright page, "A shorter version of this book has appeared in Cosmopolitan Magazine.")

The Turquoise Lament finds Travis responding to a letter from an old friend, Pidge, who is married and living in Hawaii. Travis goes for a visit. She tells him she thinks her husband is trying to kill her; the husband says she's crazy. Which is it? Travis falls hard for Pidge, whom he had last seen when she was a teenager. It seems like the real thing this time. There is also a matter of sunken treasure and major-league legal fraud. Travis figures it all out and flies to Pago Pago for the final rescue.

I must have read The Lonely Silver Rain before, because I remembered how he transferred all his LPs and reel-to-reel tapes to cassettes and upgraded his stereo system, although I retained nothing about the plot. In this story, Travis tracks down a friend's missing yacht and discovers some bodies on it. Then people start trying to kill him. Travis has to figure out who's after him and why, so he can get them off his case. To do so, he has to find out who is really to blame for killing the people whose bodies he merely discovered. Organized crime is involved. In a parallel plot, the middle-aged Travis is finally starting to question the choices he has made, wondering whether he should have settled down when he had the chance, wondering if he isn't getting too old to be a boat bum. Meanwhile, someone mysteriously keeps leaving cats made out of pipe cleaners on his boat and in his truck. Interestingly, there's no love interest this time, but it wouldn't be JDM without (quite) a bit of sex.


At the end, it turns out the cats are being left by his teenaged daughter! Her mother was one of Travis's most serious girlfriends. She left without saying she was pregnant, and she died just after giving birth. The girl thinks he treated her mother badly and doesn't care for anyone but himself. With the help of a letter carefully saved in his safety deposit box, he proves that it was a case of true love, that her mother left him, not the other way round, and that he had no idea of the daughter's existence. They are reconciled, and after a summer on the houseboat with him, she goes off to college. A happy ending. Most unexpected, given all the other McGee books, in which he studiously avoids commitment, all the while delicately disengaging himself from serious relationships and enjoying or not enjoying any number of not-so-serious relationships. Now he has a commitment, someone to live for. I don't know if this is the last McGee novel (they're listed alphabetically in most of the books), but it would be a good place to leave him.


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