Thursday, February 12, 2009

Book Review: The Long Lavender Look

Time was, I was a big fan of John D. MacDonald (he was still alive then). I believe I read all of the Travis McGee books, of which this is one. I also read Condominium, one of his attempts at literary fiction, and predictably it was a disappointment. The power of the McGee books is in the genre and in the attitude. Dirty dealings and benign cynicism.

Trav is a very 'Sixties hero, with parallels to James Bond. Like Bond, McGee is a garbage-collector of the vile detritus left behind by the world's evil geniuses (and quite a few just plain idiotic criminals reminiscent of Elmore Leonard and Quentin Tarantino stories). Trav is also both a lover and an exploiter of beautiful women -- some smart, some dumb, all in some kind of trouble. And, as in the Bond stories, the ones he loves too much end up dead, usually horribly so, at the hands of the elusive monster-du-jour. Revenge then adds to Trav's justification for giving back as bad as his girlie got, or worse.

As an education in the underside of Florida real-estate schemes and political corruption, MacDonald's books are delightful and unexpected discoveries. You also get a strong dose of macroeconomic theory anytime McGee engages his neighbor Meyer Meyer in intellectual banter, whom we find sitting next to him in the speeding old Rolls pickup truck in the opening pages of Lavender.

But what strikes me as I pick up this book again is the depth of the cruelty MacDonald conjures. It's really ugly, voyeuristic, more shocking than the scummiest story in today's Enquirer. Leonard dishes out such material with a sigh, Tarantino with a chortle. I'm not sure where MacDonald stands, but suffice it to say his opinion of human nature is not too high.

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