When men were men*

How Travis McGee tools around.

YOU CAN HAVE Sam Spade. Give me Spenser and Travis McGee any day of the year.

A retired guy has time on his hands. I spend lots of that time reading. Sometimes it’s important stuff. Oftentimes it’s just fun. Currently, I’m having lots of fun.

I recently purchased the first three books in Robert B. Parker‘s Spenser series. I may have read them decades ago. I don’t remember, which is good because they’re fresh again.


The first Spenser novel, The Godwulf Manuscript, is not Parker at his best. He’s clearly getting his sea legs. The second, God Save the Child, introduces Spenser’s permanent love interest, the psychologist and high school guidance counselor Susan Silverman who’s a babe.

The third, Mortal Stakes, well, I’ve not started it yet. The three novels rest inside my Kindle, God’s sweet gift to guys who live in countries where English is not common.

Right up there, and likely surpassing Parker’s talent, is John D. MacDonald, the creator of the private eye Travis McGee.

While Spenser has no first name and lives in Boston, Travis McGee is a south Florida gumshoe who lives in Fort Lauderdale. This reflects Parker’s Boston home and MacDonald’s fondness for Florida where he resided for years.

Write about what you know.

Spenser has an office and an apartment. McGee has no office, but he does have a houseboat named The Busted Flush. Both drink a lot. While Spenser has one girlfriend, the aforementioned Susan Silverman, McGee is a player.

And he drives a Rolls Royce pickup truck. His 52-foot houseboat is docked at Slip F-18, Bahia Mar Marina.

He’s for real, you know.

Both have sidekicks. Spenser’s is a fancy-dressing black dude named Hawk who is a semi-criminal. McGee’s is a pudgy economist named G. Ludweg Myer who has his own houseboat, appropriately dubbed the John Maynard Keynes.

John D.

Both Parker and MacDonald come from another world, especially MacDonald who was born in 1916, one year after my father. Parker was born in 1932, 16 years later. Both are now dead.

Both Spenser and McGee would have loathed modern times with unisex restrooms, gay marriages, alleged “white privilege,” a Weepy Barry in the White House with his leftist minions trying to disarm citizens …

… fabricated genders, “rape culture,” comfort zones, trigger warnings, demonization of policemen, girls in the Marine Corps infantry, all of that wussy nonsense.

The two sleuths were what was once called men’s men, which is out of style these days. Probably both would have packed up and moved to Mexico. They would have been happy here.

McGee could have motored to Veracruz on The Busted Flush, but he would have needed to abandon the Rolls pickup in Lauderdale. That would have been a freaking shame.

* * * *

* And women were glad of it.

12 thoughts on “When men were men*

  1. I recently read a couple of Spenser novels. They were fun at first, but further along became formulaic. I don’t recall the titles. (Does it matter?) Maybe I should pick up some Travis McGee novels.

    Don Cuevas


    1. Speaking of formula writing, MacDonald and my father were contemporaries, age-wise. Both left the Army in 1945 and began selling short stories to pulp magazines in the waning years of pulp popularity. MacDonald could churn them out. My father could or would not. My mother told me far later than he agonized over every word and sentence, so churning was not in the cards for him. But quite a few of his short stories, mostly detective and Westerns, did appear in the pulps in the late 1940s. He saved quite a few of the magazines, and I personally bound them into a book in the 1980s. I was an amateur bookbinder. (My talents are endless.) I imagine my sister has that book now.

      So, unable to churn them out fast enough to support a wife and two kids, he returned to newspapering around 1950. And MacDonald went on to fame and fortune because he could churn.


    1. Mike M: The first McGee novel was published in 1954, so you started young with Travis. I didn’t mention in the post that I also downloaded MacDonald’s first novel from 1950, his first McGee novel, and his last McGee novel that was published not long before MacDonald died in 1986. I may have read them before, but it would have been long, long ago. They’ll keep me busy and entertained for a spell. I prefer Travis to Spenser, though Spenser is lots of fun.

      MacDonald would have been 100 this year.


  2. I am almost ashamed now to admit that the only author whose novels I read in full was Ayn Rand — when I was 18. Of course, Objectivism is one of those intellectual constructs that is perfect for teenage boys — and absolutely a waste for real world application as an adult.


    1. Good Lord, Steve. You are a masochist. I tried to read one of her books years ago and quickly bogged down.

      I met Ayn Rand once at a little second-floor get-together in San Francisco in 1963.


  3. I have read every MacDonald book I could find at least once or twice. Travis McGee was a great and very resourceful character. I met MacDonald once in a beach bar on Treasure Island in 1979 and we talked for over an hour about his novel Condominium and how condos were destroying Florida.


    1. Andrés: I read Condominium too. Really good. Interesting that you ran into John D. at the bar. I once sat next to Kris Kristofferson at the airport bar in New Orleans. We did not converse, however. He was talking to a friend on the other side.


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