Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Lonely Silver Rain

Yesterday's two posts about reading were inspired by a re-read of John D. MacDonald's last Travis McGee book, The Lonely Silver Rain. The book was published in 1985, not long before MacDonald's death. The first book in the series was 1964's The Deep Blue Goodbye.
McGee was an interesting character, part private eye, part con man, and part knight errant. He worked as a 'salvage' expert, recovering things that had been stolen for people who couldn't go to the police for whatever reasons. The deal was, whatever he recovered, he kept half of. This allowed him to "take his retirement in installments."
McGee lived on a houseboat in Fort Lauderdale Florida and MacDonald's descriptions of the sunshine state have never been equaled. Reading the McGee books one can feel the heat and smell the ocean and see the scrub palms and the wind blown sand.
In the Lonely Silver Rain, McGee is asked to find a stolen yacht by an old friend. He manages to do so but there are three murdered and mutilated corpses on board, apparently the victims of a drug deal gone wrong. McGee leaves the boat where he finds it and makes an anonymous call to the coast guard. He collects his money and calls the deal closed. But a few weeks later someone tries to kill McGee with a mail bomb. McGee spends the rest of the book trying to find out why someone is trying to kill him and to stay a step ahead of their attempts. It's a great, suspenseful story.
One can also tell that it was written by a man who was suffering from health problems and knew he didn't have long. McGee is constantly obsessed with his own age and mortality in this book, and the death of an old lover and an important revelation forms an unexpected postscript to the main plot.
I discovered McGee in time to buy three hardbacks off the bookstore shelves, beginning with Free Fall in Crimson and followed by Cinnamon Skin. The Lonely Silver Rain was the 21st book in the McGee series. There would be no more. Re-reading the book over twenty years later I still find that MacDonald's prose sings. It has what Raymond Chandler called "echoes beyond a distant hill." The characters stay with you a long time after the book is closed. Might have to re-read a few more McGees soon. I find that I've missed him.

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