Remember those Sony email leaks from a couple of years ago? In them we learned that super-producer Scott Rudin thought Angelina Jolie was “a minimally talented spoiled brat”, that the North Koreans hated Jonah Hill, and that Sony hoped to team up with Marvel for a new Spider-Man series.
Buried deep in those emails was a list of films in “active development” by producer Peter Chernin that included The Deep Blue Good-by, to be directed by James Mangold and written by Dennis Lehane. Chernin describes the plot like this, “Travis McGee, a free-living bachelor living on a house boat, attempts to track down a hidden treasure.”
That’s a pretty succinct way of boiling down the plot of John D. MacDonald’s first Travis McGee novels. Written between 1964 and 1985 these novels are often compared to Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe or Ian Fleming’s James Bond. But Travis McGee isn’t really a detective and her certainly isn’t a secret agent. He’s really more of a beach bum. He lives on a house boat won in a poker game and only works when he runs out of money. And when he works, he has a pretty unique job. Imagine someone took something valuable from you. Trav will get it back and keep half as his fee. I guess he’s a sort of mercenary, but he’s a good man at heart. Unlike the cynical Phillip Marlowe and the vicious misogynist Bond, Travis is a man of honor and obligation, taking jobs when he feels bad for the victim.
In The Deep Blue Goodbye, an abusive sociopath has stolen his girlfriend’s ill-gotten inheritance. Now rich, he’s moved on to torturing another woman and stalking young girls. He’s a monster, really, and Trav is easily forgiven for any less-than-ethical steps he takes on his path to track down the money and punish the criminal.
Unfortunately, the book suffers from its depiction of female characters. Presented as objects of McGee’s over-critical gaze, or as helpless victims waiting for a savior, they’re in desperate need of some three-dimensionality. But if you’re a fan of hard-boiled detective noir, super spies, Mack Bolan, or man’s-man fiction in general you’ll probably like Travis McGee, too, despite the time capsule sexism and lack of a blockbuster movie.