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4.0 out of 5 starsDays Gone Past.
Reviewed in the United States on January 8, 2020
I will up front admit that i have been a life long reader of Mr. MacDonald. I have read and reread this series more times then i can count. The reason for this is that the Travis McGee series cannot be beat. So many writers have tried and some of those tries have been good efforts but there is not a modern writer that can match Mr. MacDonald in the skill of story telling and at the same time allow for deep exploration of human nature and its dark corners. Travis McGee is the true banged up knight in shining but dented armor. Sit back relax and enjoy those days gone past.
5.0 out of 5 starsPrepare to read it it one sitting... too good to put down
Reviewed in the United States on August 2, 2017
John MacDonald rarely disappoints. His main man Travis McGee is right up there with John Wayne. A rough and tumble big guy who always finds ways to rescue damsels in distress. Travis lives on a house boat THE BUSTED FLUSH docked at Bahia Mar in Fort Lauderdale, I knew the author who was an avid seafarer so his boating lingo is spot on.. As for the locale I worked in Ft. Lauderdale for 16 years. The setting ,the yarn make this and all Travis novels page burners. Side bar, John MacDonald plays a significant role in John Grishams new top selling Casino Island. Go for it/
5.0 out of 5 starsThe underside of a small Florida town...
Reviewed in the United States on June 29, 2020
Once upon a time, Travis McGee did a big favor, or two, for an old friend. Now that old friend has passed on, but only after sending a letter begging McGee to come check something out. There might be something rotten in a small Florida town...
This Travis McGee mystery is a bit of a slow-roller. Author John D. McDonald took his own sweet time dropping the clues and developing an interesting set of characters. Astute readers may still not get there quite as fast as our semi-retired marine salvage hero, poking into the dangerous underside of that small town. Well recommended to fans of the series.
4.0 out of 5 starsEnjoyable McGee story, but probably not the McGee book to start with.
Reviewed in the United States on March 7, 2014
I think this novel is better suited for readers who’ve already been introduced to Travis McGee. I would suggest reading at least two or three other McGee stories before tackling this one. This one is #10 in the series of 21, and enjoying this one is greatly enhanced if you already know McGee and his philosophical approach to his adventures.
I found all the backstory in the early chapters a little off-putting (or maybe just the way it jumped around), but I waded through it and was glad I did. I’m reading all the Travis McGee series in order, and while reading those early chapters I thought this one might have been one of his lesser quality endeavors, but then discovered that it turns out to be a fairly good one. That’s my subjective opinion, of course. It took a while for the plot to unfold, and then the mystery was solved and ended in a fast flurry. For those readers who desire the plot of any story to rip into them by the end of chapter one, or even sooner, then this story would not appeal to them. However, if you are a reader who enjoys being seduced by good storytelling, and are willing to trust that the author to eventually get you thoroughly entwined in both the plot and characters and give you a big dose of entertainment, then this story is definitely worth reading.
The plot is a little more intricate that in Travis McGee novels #1 thru #9. It’s a bit more complicated and a bit more circuitous. And the resolve sort of shows up in a bolt of lightning. And the characters are also a bit more difficult to figure out. It was a little disappointing that the character Dave Broon, who played such a significant role in the mystery, was treated in such a superficial manner. But that is part of the fun of reading mysteries, n’est-ce pa? It is for me, which is why I liked this story. I liked the fact that it could confuse me if I wasn’t paying attention.
This novel also includes more in-depth Travis McGee philosophies on life. Much more McGee introspection on the complexities of mankind than I found in the previous novels in the series. I thoroughly enjoyed these extended philosophic segues, but I also know that other readers might not. As such, this is probably a novel you should know about before you decide to read it, otherwise you might end up disappointed. It’s a solid 4-star for me, but I could easily see why another reader might give it a 2 or 3-star rating.
I don’t think this is the best novel to introduce a new reader to the Travis McGee series. You don’t have to go back to #1 in the series, although I would recommend it, but this novel will probably be more appreciated by those readers who have already joined the Travis McGee fan club and are receptive to a more in-depth exploration of his internal thoughts and a more complicated plot.
5.0 out of 5 starsEssential reading for mystery buffs
Reviewed in the United States on July 24, 2010
Surely you've read one or another of John MacDonald's "Travis McGee" novels. If you haven't, you might want to start with the very first, "The Deep Blue Goodbye." But you can also read them out of order, as I did, and "The Girl in the Plain Brown Wrapper" isn't a bad way to start. It's vintage MacDonald / McGee, a page turner worth every minute you choose to invest in it.
MacDonald was a master, a creator of characters, images, story lines, and profound concepts that you never really forget. A creator of prose that at times is unbelievably beautiful: elegant, deceptively simple, and often just perfectly constructed. He's the sort of writer other writers dream of being (exemplified by Stephen King's many heartfelt tributes to MacDonald).
This isn't really a review of the specific novel. I honestly don't see the point: the summary here at Amazon tells all you really need to know about the specific story. What you REALLY need to know is that -- with rare exceptions -- you simply can't go wrong with a MacDonald book. Every story is unique, and sturdy, and will leave you permanently affected.
Update 7-20-18: I have been meaning to come back and revise this review for a long time. Indeed, for the last two or three years I've been thinking about it. As a working writer, and a fan of great crime fiction, my love of John McDonald's work and the Travis McGee series remains strong. He is still -- decades on -- one of the giants in the field. But as I started re-reading these novels, starting 3-4 years ago, I realized something that didn't penetrate my thick skull sufficiently on the first round: McDonald is just awful in the way he deals with his female characters. He truly has no idea how to assume a woman's voice; consistently, his female characters sounds like sex kitten morons. They don't sound like any women I've ever known, and once you become aware of it -- unless you steal yourself for it, accepting it as part of the era and style in which he wrote -- it invariably detracts from the novels.
It's not entirely his fault. McDonald wrote in the 1940s through mid-1980s, and certainly his tone vis-a-vis women is very consistent with how most (not all) TV, movies and books treated women at least through the mid-1960s. I lately have been binge-watching the old Peter Gunn series (1958-1961). The lead, Craig Stevens, was a fine actor and very decent man to boot, and is always fun to watch. But I feel so sorry for actress Lola Albright, who played Gunn's girlfriend Edie. The actress was probably pretty bright but in the show she, too, is a purring kitten moron. I guess it just would have killed the writers if she'd been given some intelligent lines, had discussed anything besides sweet nothings and how she was going to pout because Pete had to work. Well, the McGee books have female characters who sound an awful lot like that. Less defensible is how McDonald kept writing them like that, mostly, right up until the end (mid-1980s). I mean, by the 1970s it was getting very, very out of step with reality. Oddly, in The Green Ripper (the only one is the series that I really dislike), the female character is slightly more adult, capable, and coherent.
Of course, he kills her off quickly enough, and in general McDonald whacks most of his female characters. I've seen recent criticism of crime novels generally for doing this -- introducing women only as damsels in distress / conveniently agonizing murder victims -- and McDonald is very, very guilty of this sin also. Of course lots of men die in his novels, too.
(And don't get me started on his sex scenes. In an interview, John Grisham said he only ever once tried to write a sex scene, and he thought it awful, so he never did it again. Smart guy! Most men, in fact, aren't very good at it. And McDonald is exceptionally bad at it. This is not him being sexist per say, just awkward and even embarrassing. Fortunately it's only, typically, a few pages per novel).
I've been meaning for ages to return and amend my review to say all of this. (In fact, I even tried once, but couldn't for the life of me find how to get to my old reviews in Amazon's byzantine screens). But the recent emergence of the MeToo movement gave me even more incentive. It's certainly raised my consciousness: I knew before how women are often treated badly, but I never imaged it was so ubiquitous and damaging, so CONSTANT in the lives of most women. That made me feel that my failure to mention this in the original review here was a serious omission.
Now to his credit, McDonald did NOT ever have his hero -- McGee -- acting like a damned grab-ass buffoon around the female characters. Well, they all wanted to bed him in any case, so he little incentive to. But even at that, there are a number of moments in the books when he makes clear that McGee is a stand-up guy not given to taking ugly liberties. So at least there's that.
Here's my conclusion: this and ALL the McGee novels remain essential reading for mystery buffs (even The Green Ripper, which I really detest). Just go in with eyes open, aware that as marvelously skilled a writer as McDonald was -- and he really was one of the greats of the 20th century! -- he was a long way from perfect due to his ham-handedness dealing with female characters.
Ten books in, and the Travis McGee series shows little sign of improvement to warrant all the praise that this series garnered at the time of original publication. McGee has to be one of the most annoying characters in fiction, with a sense of smug superiority running through most of his narrative. The plots by and large are all the same, with McGee being called in to find out what's happened to someone, which in turn tends to reveal a labyrinthine plot based around financial greed and implausibly convoluted scheming. Add a generous dash of sexism, racism and general misguided views on things from the world of the late 1960s, and that pretty much sums up the series so far. The Girl In The Plain Brown Wrapper is a particularly ludicrous entry in the series, with a clunky, dense plot and a narrative structure that seems unsuccessful in maintaining the flow of the plot. There is no escaping the fact that these books simply would not get published today.