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Séries: Travis McGee (7)

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Classic American hero Travis McGee matches wits and sharpshooting skills against a ruthless band of mercenary privateers. Reissue.
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Darker Than Amber por John D. MacDonald (1967)

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What can I say? Another grood Travis McGee thriller by the great John D. MacDonald. He was the Lee Child of the 1960s. Fun reads and well done ( )
  ikeman100 | Jan 7, 2020 |
I read and loved many of John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee novels in my high school and college years. I read most of the titles and wrapped up with a hardcover purchase of The Lonely Silver Rain.

While it has an exciting opening sequence, Darker Than Amber (1966) somehow lost me when I started it back in the day, having secured a paperback copy from The Book Nook in Alexandria, LA, where I often scanned the shelves for detective works I'd read about.

My dad read it through and liked it, but I guess the opening passage was a bit slow for me in my younger years.

McGee, you probably know, was a houseboat-dwelling beach bum who took his ongoing retirement in chunks. When funds grew low, he'd take on a salvage job. Recover money or property for someone in exchange for half the value to fund a little more free time of boating, fishing and otherwise enjoying life. McGee had frequent female guests aboard, often for complex though brief relationships.

When Darker Than Amber opens, he's fishing with his pal Meyer. Meyer's an economist who occupies a boat called the John Maynard Keynes a few slips away from Trav's F-18 at the Fort Lauderdale marina known as Bahia Mar marina.

Meyer and Trav's motorboat is anchored beneath a South Florida bridge when a girl's hurled over the railing with weights on her feet. Trav dives to save her and manages to unfurl the wires holding the weights in place, ripping of his shirt to help with the tightly-wrapped metal. Fortunately her would-be killers didn't have time for concrete galoshes.

He takes her back to his houseboat, The Busted Flush and soon learns she's named Vangie, short for Evangeline, though she has about as many aliases as Brigid O'Shaughnessy in The Maltese Falcon.

The color of the title
Vangie seems to be of Hawaiian island lineage and has eyes that provide the book's color title, a conceit devised by MacDonald to help buyers differentiate the books they'd already read.

A former prostitute, we learn Vangie gained a conscience while serving as bait in a con game she's a little vague about as she hangs out aboard the Flush, donning duds left behind by previous guests. She bonds a bit with McGee though he turns down a sexual encounter and winds up posing for a few photos for Meyer.

Then she's off to pick up dough she siphoned off from the con games from a hiding place she's hopeful her former accomplices haven't discovered.

Mild spoilers past this point

McGee's soon at the morgue using a ruse to check the body of a hit-and-run victim, and yes it's Vangie.

Feeling a sense of duty as well as a desire to pick up the funds she might not have accessed, McGee sets off to find out what Vangie was a part of.

Soon, McGee's got her hidden cash and is unraveling the con game with a murderous component and devising an elaborate scheme of his own to rattle the bad guys and exact justice. That includes a dangerous character named Ans Terry, who has a touch of a conscience but a brutal side as well. He was kind of forced to throw Vangie off the bridge.

I guess originally the opening dragged a little for me. On this reading at a more patient age, it flowed well and overall it offers an interesting and different entry point into the adventure for McGee.

The scheme Vangie was part of is a bit complicated, and the pains and lengths McGee and Meyer go to in order to rattle the culprits make up the latter part of the action. This is not my favorite McGee because it all seems just a little shaky and strained, but it eventually comes together well with some satisfying action, a bit of McGee role playing and an exciting climax.

The book features many South Florida locations and offers a look into the cruise industry of the mid-sixties as well. Any McGee is a fun and rich reading experience. I'm happy to have returned and taken this additional step toward being a McGee completist. I still have a few steps to go.

I should note I saw the movie version with Rod Taylor on TV in the early '80s with a trimmed version of the famous fight scene between Taylor as McGee and William Smith as the Terry character sans the Ans.

I didn't care for the film either back in the day. Re-watching it today in uncut form, I think it does a good job overall with the novel, is pretty true to the McGee spirit and dishes up a pretty cool fight scene directed by Robert Clouse who was destined for Bruce Lee's Enter the Dragon.

Taylor's a pretty good McGee as well. Makes me a little sad the planned movie series didn't pan out. ( )
  SidWilliams | May 10, 2018 |
“Darker Than Amber” is the seventh novel in the 21-novel strong Travis McGee series. It is one of the tightest written books in the series and truly focuses like a laser beam on the problem at hand. McGee, if you are unfamiliar with the series, lives on a 52-foot houseboat, “The Busted Flush.” He works when he needs money or when someone or something drops in his lap. He is in the “salvage business,” meaning that he helps people get back money misappropriated from them and claims half the proceeds as his share. It’s a different way to make a living. He is not a detective and often operates on his own terms, outside legal boundaries.

McGee specializes in fixing wounded sparrows and other stray persons that are found on his doorstep. In a flashback, he explains that he had just finished spending ten days onboard his boat with Virginia (“Vidge”), who had “come rocketing down from Atlanta, in wretched shape emotionally, trying to find out who she used to be before three years of a sour marriage had turned her into somebody she didn’t even like anymore.” Again, MacDonald does a great job in describing Vidge, “like so many other mild nice people, was a natural-born victim.” McGee focuses often on people whose spirit has been not just wounded, but ground into the dirt till all the sunshine has been poured out of the person’s eyes. “After three years of Charlie, she was gaunted, shrill, shaky, and couldn’t tell you what time it was without her eyes filling with tears.” MacDonald has an art to his writing where he captures the emotional turmoil and desperation that people go through and the depths to which they travel.

But McGee’s ten days with Vidge is just a digression. This story is about the woman who drops into his lap literally while he was fishing under a bridge with his buddy, Meyer. This woman (“Vangie”) drops from the bridge with her legs tied with wire to a cement block. He and Meyer nurse her back to human life and find that she has been a call girl for twelve years, but has been involved in some horrible scheme so fantastic that the others involved have to kill her to prevent the truth from leaking. It is some scheme involving roping in persons on cruise ships and there are hundreds of thousands of dollars at stake to the operators.

There is money involved, but the con game is so chilling, so twisted, so evil, that McGee and Meyer take it upon themselves to act as the white knights in shining armor and take on the ring and expose it for what it is. This is the tightest and one of the smoothest written of the McGee stories and is highly recommended. ( )
  DaveWilde | Sep 22, 2017 |
I previously read this 8 years ago alone having not read any others but this year found a set of the Travis McGee books I've read the first six so figured I would revisit this one. I can say having the back story of all the capers thus far and a better background of the character does give the book a lot more depth.

Whilst I don't think it was quite has good as the prior three books it was still a good yarn. ( )
  HenriMoreaux | Apr 30, 2017 |
This 7th entry in the Travis McGee series is the first one in which McGee's neighbor & friend Meyer has a major role. I liked the dynamic between Meyer & McGee and Meyer balances out McGee's personality.

However, I find the attitudes to women & sex sometimes mildly offensive; interestingly I think McGee is much more of a "love 'em and leave 'em" guy than James Bond ever was (at least in the books). I realize that these books are very much of their times (mid 60s) but passages like

"I was a prude, in my own fashion. I had been emotionally involved a few times with women with enough of a record of promiscuity to make me vaguely uneasy. It is difficult to put much value on something the lady has distributed all too generously."

make me cringe especially since this standard of behavior clearly isn't intended to be applied to McGee himself! ( )
1 vote leslie.98 | Sep 2, 2015 |
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We were about to give up and call it a night when somebody dropped the girl off the bridge.
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"I'm in the logic business, McGee. I deduce possibilities and probabilities from what I can observe. My God, man, compared to the mists and smokes of economic theory and practice, the world of actual events seems almost oversimplified. A corporate financial statement is the most nonspecific thing there is. If a man can't read the lines between the lines between the lines, he might as well stuff his money into a hollow tree."
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Classic American hero Travis McGee matches wits and sharpshooting skills against a ruthless band of mercenary privateers. Reissue.

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