The Top Five Travis McGee Novels For Fans Of The Seafaring Sleuth

After discovering the amazing Louis L’Amour through watching Westerns, I fell back into my love of crime fiction, but managed to find a series that was adapted and features my new favourite actor.

This time, it’s the Travis McGee books by renowned thriller writer John D. MacDonald.

Another recent find I learned about through my newfound love of Sam Elliott movies, MacDonald’s droll seafaring sleuth appealed to me for a number of reasons.

For one, Travis McGee, known as Trav, lives on a barge called the Busted Flush. That’s an amazing name, and I’ve always wanted to live on a boat myself, so the series immediately caught my eye.

Also, the character is witty in the hardboiled manner, and clearly modelled on classic pulp fiction detectives such as Philip Marlowe.

Elliott plays him in a film named Travis McGee, and there was also an earlier film adaptation featuring Rod Taylor.

I’ve only seen Elliott in Travis McGee, and it’s safe to say that, while a good watch, the film does nothing to prepare you for the incredible wit and dry worldliness of the books. These novels are full of insightfulness and deep descriptions of the baseness of the human condition.

MacDonald, the author of this intensely gripping series of books, was already a prolific thriller writer before he created McGee, but the creation cemented his reputation as a creator of innovative detective stories.

The series protagonist, McGee is a bit different from traditional private eyes, but in many other ways he’s also incredibly similar.

Unlike many hardboiled private detectives, he doesn’t really style himself as such. Instead, he views himself as a ‘salvage expert’, who will find whatever you’ve lost in return for half of it.

He calls himself retired, stating that instead of retiring at 60 like others, he’s taking his retirement in chunks. He works when he needs money, then he takes some time off until he starts running low on funds.

While all this might make him sound like a glorified beach hippy, he’s as fast-talking, hard-hitting and generally unconventional as any other hardboiled private sleuth.

He’s also a smooth talker who’s great with women, and who frequently finds himself entangled with questionable ladies. When it comes to violence, McGee isn’t afraid to use it and is handy with his fists, but he has a moral compass like many hardboiled private eyes, which often leads him into questionable situations.

So, if you’re looking for a crime fiction series that offers something a little bit different, then MacDonald’s Travis McGee series could be the perfect choice for you.

Many of the newer editions of these books, which were first published throughout the 1960s to the 1980s, come with an introduction by Lee Child, so there’s even more of an incentive to read them.

There are more than 20 novels featuring Travis McGee, each one including a different colour in the title. All of them show the detective uncovering a new and more ingenious case, with a cast of phenomenal, often oddball characters.

These books are often overlooked by hardboiled crime fiction fans, who focus on the traditional names. If you’re looking to check out this series, then here are my top five picks.

5. The Dreadful Lemon Sky: In the early hours of a perfectly ordinary morning, Travis McGee is awoken by an old girlfriend with a favour to ask. She requests that McGee stashes her suitcase, which is filled with $100,000 dollars of suspicious cash. She asks him to keep it safe for two weeks, and to send it to her sister if she’s not back by then to collect it. In return for this simple favour, McGee can keep $10,000, which is less than his usual fee of half the loot, but the job is much simpler than his normal commissions. He reluctantly takes on the role, and after two weeks he goes snooping around to see why his friend still hasn’t returned to collect her case of cash. He learns that she’s died in what’s described as an accident, but McGee isn’t so sure. Feeling upset about his friend’s death, the sleuth sets out to uncover who staged the accident and is led into the seedy underbelly of organised crime. MacDonald keeps the reader guessing throughout this novel, which is why I enjoyed it so much.

4. The Empty Copper Sea: A wealthy businessman disappears off his luxury boat, and the accident is blamed on the vessel’s captain. He’s believed to have fallen overboard and drowned, and as the captain is accused of being drunk in charge of the cruiser when his employer went over the side. Van Harder, the captain of the boat, is a proud man who wants his reputation restored to him. He’s convinced that his boss is alive and well, and has gone into exile in Mexico to hide his unscrupulous business dealings and ill-gotten gains. Harder goes to his old pal Travis McGee, and asks him to help him prove that the accident wasn’t his fault and that his boss faked his own death. Seeking to prove his friend to be a capable seaman, McGee goes off in search of the missing man, and soon uncovers a tale of deception, deceit and devious financial dealings. This is the book that was the basis of the TV movie Travis McGee, which starred the iconic Sam Elliott, with the location moved from Florida to California. The film doesn’t do the book justice; while Elliott makes an excellent smooth-talking sleuth, he doesn’t quite embody the deceptive beach bum energy of the real McGee. The character is supposed to disarm women and adversaries with his deep tan and languorous demeanour. Once they’re suitably disarmed, he is able to extract their deepest secrets. Elliott is too much the hero to play McGee, and the script lacks the dry edge that MacDonald uses in all his books. Don’t let that put you off from reading The Empty Copper Sea: it’s a truly spectacular story that any hardboiled detective fiction fan will enjoy.

3. A Deadly Shade Of Gold: When an old friend of McGee’s drops by and asks to see him, they agree to meet at the man’s motel room. When the private eye arrives, he’s greeted by the sight of his pal’s murdered corpse. All that’s left behind is his old friend’s vengeful girlfriend and ancient Aztec idol that leads to a lot of trouble. This is the first book in the series to feature the enigmatic playboy economist Meyer, who features in later novels as McGee’s friend who often helps him to recover valuable items for his clients. This novel takes the reader from the Florida beaches where he lives on his houseboat to the expatriate society in Mexico as he searches for other icons in the series.

2. A Nightmare In Pink: Like all good hardboiled private detectives, Travis McGee was in the army. When the sister of an old friend from his days in service, who got injured when he stayed behind while McGee was on leave, comes to him for help, the professional finder feels compelled to assist her. Her fiancé has been murdered in what the police claim was a normal mugging, but she suspects differently. The murdered man was digging in some unsavoury places and seemed to have uncovered a scandal at his real estate firm, and a lot of money has gone missing. Just as McGee is getting nearer the truth, he’s sedated and trapped in a mental hospital. MacDonald keeps the thrills coming in this fast-paced and innovative thriller, which goes from simple search to gripping crime thriller in just a few short chapters.

1. The Deep Blue Goodbye: As I’ve said over and again, the first book in a series is always a great place to start. In this case, The Deep Blue Goodbye is an amazing place to begin, and makes for a perfect introduction to Travis McGee, beech bum extraordinaire, and his unique way of life. He’s got Miss Agnes, which might be the only Rolls Royce in the world to have been made into a pickup truck. He’s also got the Busted Flush, and his whirlwind life on board her. When his dancer friend, Chookie, introduces him to a friend who’s been raped and had an unknown treasure stolen from her by a two-bit smooth-talking conman, he sets out to recover the treasure. Quickly, McGee discovers the depths of the conman’s depravity, and his sense of morality kicks in and he begins a desperate, nationwide search for this rapist turned thief.

Jane Hobden Interview: “I like to write something that’s dark and thought provoking”

Crime writer and former paralegal Jane Hobden talks me through her work and how it’s evolved into her latest novel, Guilty.

Tell me about your books. What drew you towards writing psychological thrillers?

I have always loved thrillers whether it be crime, suspense or psychological.  Basically, I write something that I would love to read.  I like to be kept guessing until the end or have something that I didn’t expect happen. 

What is your background and how did you get in to writing?

My background is in criminal law where I worked as a paralegal.  I really enjoyed that job – every day brought something new.  I have spent a lot of time in Courts and Prisons preparing a persons’ case for trial including meeting a wide range of clientele who, in most cases would be absolutely terrified of the process and the fear of facing a prison sentence.  I find that it brings both the best and the worst out in people. 

I first started writing in 2011 at a time when I was in a job that I didn’t particularly like.  I found that it helped with my work stress levels having something to focus on.  My first book The Hartford Inheritance I self-published in 2014.  Since then, I’ve changed jobs and as with most people, life has been too fast paced to be able to concentrate on writing anything new save for a dystopian future YA book that my kids could read.  Then Covid-19 happened and we had no option but to slow it all down.  That’s when I started writing again – this time a crime thriller. 

Please tell me about your books. What sets them apart from other similar novels?

Guilty strays far from the traditional one-dimensional thriller.  I want the reader to not know who is guilty until the very end.  I’ve tried to show the assault from different viewpoints, allowing the reader to sympathise with each emotion that the characters feel.  I want the reader to consider if they would behave in the same way. 

Tell me about the books you write. Where do you find your inspiration?

I’ve always had a ‘healthy’ imagination shall we say.  I love crime dramas.  As my husband would say, unless there’s a dead body in a tent, Jane wouldn’t turn the TV on for it.  I love the thrill of it.  I like to write something that’s dark and thought provoking.   I don’t think I’d be able to write in any other genre. 

If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?

I’m definitely reaching for the stars here but I’ve got to say J K Rowling.  What she created in Harry Potter is nothing short of a phenomenon.  A book loved by children and adults alike.  The detail involved.  So much thought goes into every single one of her characters and every storyline leads in a different direction.  She’s definitely my idol. 

Do you have any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?

I’ve already started my next novel, which has the working title Beneath Ground.  Another psychological thriller but this time I’m dealing with Stockholm Syndrome. 

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to coming up?

One of the books I recently read was a book by a debut author called Abigail Dean.  The book is called Girl A, I’m sure most people have heard of it by now.  It is absolutely amazing.  I loved it from cover to cover and read it in days.  I’m very much looking forward to her new book, which is due for release in the summer I believe. 

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Thank you, Hannah, for reading and reviewing Guilty.  It really means a lot for someone of your calibre to get involved. 

Massive thanks to Jane for answering my questions: I’m very excited to review Guilty in the coming weeks.

The Whispers Review: A Haunting Thriller That You’ll Remember For All The Right Reasons

As part of her blog tour, I’m excited to share my thoughts on the latest book from renowned thriller writer Heidi Perks.

After Perks’ past works, including Come Back For Me, Three Perfect Liarsand the incredible Now You See Her, comes her latest offering, the deliciously deceitful The Whispers.

The author’s latest release is a gripping thriller with a Gone Girl esq twist. Not to spoil the plot, but honestly, if you love Gillian’s Flynn’s bestseller then The Whispers could be the perfect read for you.

The story revolves around four very close friends, who live in the picturesque, fictional Dorset town of Clearwater, near the very real town of Weymouth. These four friends are all parents of 8 year olds kids, who are all in the same class at primary school.

On the surface, these four live picture-perfect, happy lives. They have great husbands, lovely children, and beautiful homes. Those who have jobs seem to enjoy them, and the rest love being homemakers and taking care of their husbands and children.

All of this is pulled apart with the arrival of Grace, a woman who used to live in Clearwater but moved to Australia when she was a teenager. Now a married mother with an 8 year old daughter in the same class as the four friends’ kids, she comes back and expects to fit in with her former best friend, Anna, one of the four.

However, Anna now has her three new friends, and she is increasingly distant from Grace. The other three women all rally round her and seem to try to keep her away from her childhood best friend. In a desperate attempt to fit in and win her old friend back, Grace agrees to come to a Christmas night out at the local pub.

The night is filled with in fighting and strange revelations. Grace leaves early while the other four women stay and party. The next day, Anna has disappeared, and Grace soon finds that her friends aren’t being honest about what happened to her. In desperation, Grace goes to Anna’s gormless husband, then takes it upon herself to report the disappearance to the police.

Not only is Anna’s vanishing scary for Grace, but it also brings back unwelcome memories of an eerily similar disappearance that happened back when the girls where teenagers. A girl in their class disappeared, only to be found dead having fallen from the cliffs. The cliffs in the area are renowned as dangerous, but now Grace begins to wonder.

She meets up with a policeman who worked the case all those years ago, and the two reminisce. There’s little he can do to help Grace find Anna, and no one else seems to care that she’s missing. Anna has left an amazing husband and a gorgeous small boy behind, and there doesn’t seem to be any reason behind her sudden vanishing.

When Anna reappears suddenly, it’s clear that all is not well. All of her friends are clearly keeping secrets, and the story rattles on to its final, breath-taking conclusion. In between, the story is taut and tense, with Perks teasing the reader with small titbits of information but never giving us the full story until right at the very end.

It’s the author’s masterful storytelling abilities that keep The Whispers so engaging and enticing. The tale itself is a deliciously simple one, but the writing style means that the reader is left hanging on Perks’ every word as they traverse this bitter and backbiting fiction town with her as their guide.

The ending of the novel is insanely captivating. The reader is left wondering who was right: Grace or Anna? Perks does an amazing job of keeping everything ambiguous and leaving it open to interpretation. She keeps you guessing right to the very end, and then leaves you with more questions than answers. By giving various perspectives on the narrative, she makes it tough for you to get a clear view of the plot. You’re constantly wondering who is lying and who is covering for themselves.

It’s for this reason that her latest novel is so haunting. Even after it’s over, you’ll still be questioning everything that you read and wondering who to believe. I’ve been left wondering about the book and dissecting each detail of the plot ever since I finished it a few weeks ago. I struggled to put the book down when I was reading it, and now I can’t get it out of my head.

That’s the hallmark of a good thriller. It stays with you long after it’s over and haunts you at odd moments. There are few truly exceptional books that will stay with you and give you the fear long after they’re done, and this is definitely one of them. You’ll remember the plot and notice random qualities in people you meet that remind you of the characters. It’s also the kind of thriller that you’ll want to re-read as soon as the plot even starts to fade from your memory. I’m already considering giving it another go and I’ve only just finished it!

With all that said, it’s clear that I’d thoroughly recommend The Whispers to anyone who wants to read an engaging thriller that will help you escape from your reality. The book quickly draws you in and makes you feel invested in the fates of the characters. You’ll want to find out what happened to Anna and how her past actions have affected her future reality.

When all is said and done, I think that Perks’ latest novel is a gritty, modern thriller that really packs a punch. Like Now You See Her before it, I believe that this is the sort of novel that’ll soon be optioned by NBC, Netflix or Hulu and I can totally see Reese Witherspoon trying to grab one of the main roles for herself. She’d make a great Nancy, in my opinion. I’d be excited to see a TV adaptation of this terrifying exploration of the depths of human deceit and how quickly families and relationships can crumble under the pressure of past deception.

Have A Very Norwegian Easter By Reading A Crime Novel

Happy Easter weekend to all the lovely Dorset Book Detective readers!

If you’re looking for a new tradition for Easter this year, when things are a bit weird, then I’ve got the perfect idea for you: read crime fiction.

Hear me out: I know crime fiction doesn’t sound very Easter-y, but in some countries it actually is a time-honoured tradition to read thrillers at this time of year.  

At Easter here in the UK, traditions include hiding chocolate Easter eggs for kids to find, eating a cake made with marzipan balls meant to symbolise the apostles and cooking an oversized roast dinner.

While the holiday retains some religious symbolism for some Christian households, most of us just enjoy having the time off, seeing our loved ones and stuffing our faces with tasty treats.

One international tradition that I think we should adopt in the UK is the Norwegian habit of Påskekrim, or reading crime novels at Easter.

At Easter, in this beautiful and chilly Scandinavian country, people cuddle up with a gripping thriller or binge watch a Scandi crime film or TV show.

The tradition allegedly started when two Norwegian crime writers took out an advert in the newspapers that convinced readers to read their new novel. The advert was so persuasive that many readers thought the tale was true.

Thanks to the success of the stunt the book was a huge success. As well as literary success, the publicity strategy started a tradition where readers would seek out new thrillers and mystery novels to read at Easter.

As a result, publishers started timing the releases of new crime fiction novels to coincide with the religious holiday. That meant that there were even more awesome thrillers for readers to check out at Easter every year. It also meant that it’s become a time-honoured tradition to read them over Easter.

Personally, I think that reading crime fiction at Easter is the perfect tradition for the UK. It’s a great way to reinvigorate yourself over the long weekend and expand your mind, while being lazy at the same time. Crime fiction is gripping and great for helping you to escape tough times.

It’s safe to say that there haven’t been too many times that have been tougher than these. That’s why crime fiction is particularly useful for this Easter. After all, we’re probably going to all being feeling a bit of FOMO (fear of missing out) as we’re not able to meet up with as many people or do the fun Easter activities that we’re used to enjoying. But reading, particularly gripping mysteries and thrillers, is a great way to feel exhilarated even while you’re stuck indoors, or in the garden if the weather stays fine.

Really well written crime fiction novels can take you out of your home, or garden, and transport you to a new time, place and situation. There’s a type of crime fiction for every writer, ranging from quaint cosy crime fiction through to terrifying political thrillers and more. That means that whatever you’re into, there’s a mystery for you to enjoy this Easter.

Also, reading crime fiction is one of the few Easter traditions that doesn’t involve food. Don’t get me wrong: food is really good. Everyone needs food, and most of love eating it (except for people who just eat those weird Huel meal replacement things, and they’re weird). However, Easter is a lot about food for most Brits. From the cake with the marzipan apostles to the classic crème egg, hot cross buns to the all-important roast dinner, there’s just so much traditional Easter food to choose from. So, it’s nice to have a new tradition that’s not edible.

While I know some people who do use this time to read, or re-read, the Bible, as it’s a religious holiday, most of us don’t believe and therefore choose not to read it.

If that’s the case, then Påskekrim could be the perfect solution. By making this a yearly tradition, we can feel comforted by the familiarity and get the chance to read shiny new crime fiction novels. It’s a win-win situation if you ask me!

Going one step further with the tradition and giving crime fiction books at Easter could be the UK’s way of stepping up this tradition, and I for one am all for it! While we give out loads of edible gifts, mostly in chocolate form, we could start giving out a longer lasting reminder of the awesomeness of Easter. Whether you’re religious or not, this is an amazing time of the year. We get time off and the sun is shining. There will soon be cute baby animals for us to fawn over and pretty flowers. The days are getting longer and the weather’s getting better, and this year, we’re also beating a pandemic.

Being reminded of all that with a shiny new mystery novel would be ace. I for one have already treated myself to a few new thrillers over the past couple of weeks, and I’ll be reading them over the long weekend to celebrate Easter. I think in the future, getting one wrapped in egg covered wrapping paper would make me a very happy reader!

In all, I hope the weather does stay fine for us all this Easter weekend, and that everyone gets the opportunity to read an engaging thriller. It’s even better if you can eat some yummy chocolatey treats while you’re reading too! It’s been a tough year of lockdown, and while it’s getting easier, life is far from back to normal. So, please, be kind to yourself this Easter and consider adopting a new tradition: self-case and reading your favourite crime fiction.