Travis McGee will confound your expectations. An unlikely hero for a detective novel, or any kind of novel at that, John D. MacDonald’s most famous creation is a man who has figured himself out. All it takes for him to be completely happy is a quiet life about his houseboat, the Busted Flush, with good food, good drink, and some occasional female companionship on his terms. To finance this life of Reilly, McGee takes work only when he has to, and it’s an odd line of work. If you’ve lost something and desperately want it back, and you have no other hope of getting it, McGee will get it for you. His fee? Half, plus expenses.
Cathy Kerr seems unlikely to be the kind of person with much need for McGee’s services, but the down-on-her-luck dancer is still recuperating from a disastrous relationship with a man who left her hopeless and destitute. Unbeknownst to Cathy and her family, Junior Allen had infiltrated their domestic life with the sole intent of finding and stealing her imprisoned father’s hidden treasure. Once he found it, he took off in a newly purchased pleasure boat with a new woman to torture.
Introduced by a mutual friend, McGee agrees to look into the matter, and slowly puts together the story of how Cathy’s father was able to steal a fortune while serving in India during WWII but had to hide it until he could get out of jail. All the while McGee finds himself the unlikely caretaker of Junior Allen’s latest victim, a woman so broken down by his abuse she needs constant care. It all builds to a dramatic confrontation with an absolute gut-punch of an ending that I truly didn’t see coming.
This is the first of the Travis McGee series, and it will certainly not be the last one I read.