The Lonely Silver Rain by John D. MacDonald
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
They say you can’t take it with you, but when author John D. MacDonald died in 1986 it seems like he took Travis McGee to the grave with him despite rumors of a final novel stashed away somewhere.
McGee’s final gig involves him trying to find a very expensive yacht that was stolen from a rich buddy of his, but what seems like a straight forward job of tracking down some small time boat thieves ends up with Travis getting on the wrong side of a bunch of angry South American drug dealers. The attempts on his life start as McGee is in a particularly bad funk as he struggles to deal with the realization that he may have aged out of his boat bum lifestyle and that a life spent evading responsibility eventually leaves you with little to actually live for.
I’ve written reviews for most of the McGee novels since I started this reread several years ago, and what I’ve said before is what I’ll say again here – MacDonald was a talented crime writer who came up with an intriguing creation in McGee who functions as a hybrid detective/con man as he tries to outwit some very bad people in search of profit or revenge while also making a lot of sharp observations about the era he lived in. While MacDonald was frequently ahead of the curve in a lot of subjects like environmentalism and personal privacy the way he wrote about women can only be described as incredibly sexist at times. Since so many of the stories revolve around McGee’s relationship with women the very structure of most of the books make it hard to look past as just a minor dated element like you sometimes have to when reading older authors. As good as these books are, and they are frequently very good crime novels, there’s just too many cringe worthy moments to entirely ignore.
This one does better than average on that front, and the story itself is worthy of being McGee’s swan song. It helps that a lot of it is about Travis trying to come to terms with the idea that the world has moved on, and that the book ends on probably the most moving and emotional moments of the entire series.
I’ve also got fond memories of this as one of the best on-location reads I ever did. I’d read and reread the series in my teens in the ‘80s, and it was some of the first serious crime fiction I’d ever taken on so I’ve always had a soft spot for Travis McGee. However, by the time I’d hit my thirties I hadn’t picked one up in years so the series was little more than a fading memory at that point.
Then in late 2001 I flew into Fort Lauderdale for work and was driving up A1A along the beach to get to my hotel when I passed the Bahia Mar marina. Suddenly I remembered that was where Travis McGee docked his houseboat The Busted Flush and the memories of a 21 books came flooding back. I didn’t even know it was a real place until that moment, and I was shocked to be staying just up the road from it.
So the next day after I had finished up business for the day I found a used book store and bought a copy of this one. I took it back to my hotel where I then spent the next several evenings sitting at the poolside bar reading while drinking gin. (And I don’t even like gin, but that’s McGee drank so I did it for authenticity.) I’d read countless scenes of Travis describing the area and the weather so to sit there looking out at the ocean with that book in hand was one of my better experiences as a reader.
That’s worth an extra star to me.
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