RARA-AVIS: JDM's The Green Ripper

From: William Denton ( wtd@pobox.com)
Date: 23 Jun 2005

Today I read John D. MacDonald's THE GREEN RIPPER (1979), the eighteenth Travis McGee book. I have three more to go before I've read them all in order.

This one is a) demonstrably inaccurate and b) quite unsettling. The story picks up a few months after THE EMPTY COPPER SEA ended, with McGee and Gretel Howard in a serious relationship. All of a sudden, she dies. Meyer deduces it was part of something much larger, and soon they're talking to mysterious federal agents. McGee is depressed and angry at Gretel's death--in one of his really black moods--and sets out after the people that caused her death. When the time comes, he narrates:

| One down and nine to go. This time, my dead love, I am not doing my
| knightly routine. I have shelved that as innappropriate for the
| occasion. The old tin-can knight had too many compunctions, scruples,
| whatevers. For this caper, I am the iceman. I have come here and
| brought the ice. It is a delivery service. One time only.

What's a) demonstrably inaccurate is Meyer. At the start, he predicts the collapse of the global economy in five to twelve years. He's just flown back from a conference in Europe and, on page three, begins to explain why the entire world will soon stop functioning and we will enter a new dark age. This is an unusual opening for a tough-guy thriller.

The stuff that's b) quite unsettling is the terrorist organization that McGee infiltrates. How he does it doesn't come off right--it's hard to imagine McGee as a method actor portraying a deep-sea fisherman, winkling information out of weirdo commando cultists, and they wouldn't accept him so fast--but the details of how the terrorists organize themselves, and how they will carry out their attacks, are given in some detail and are sometimes chilling. This would be a good one to review before that Bouchercon panel on post-9/11 crime writing.

I'd rate this as middling McGee. Much of it is highly unlikely, sometimes preposterous, but it moves fast, and these days the book will seem much different to readers than in the eighties and nineties. That gives it added interest, in a grim way.


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

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