This installment of the Travis McGee series starts with him joining several associates on a literal salvaging operation. It’s an apt metaphor for McGee’s normal exploits. For the unfamiliar, McGee is not quite a private eye, but he can be hired to find anything. His fee? Half of whatever he recovers. It’s a lifestyle that allows for plenty of relaxation aboard McGee’s houseboat, the Busted Flush, plenty of drinking, and plenty of time with the lovely ladies who can’t seem to stop throwing themselves at him.
This case is a departure from the norm for McGee. When he returns from his salvage trip he finds a letter from an old flame. In it, she talks of her impending death from cancer and her worries about her daughter. For reasons no doctor has been able to ascertain, the young woman has had a complete personality change, reverting to the misbehavior of a teenager and, more worryingly, attempting to commit suicide on several occasions, with the last one a very near miss.
McGee doesn’t know what he’s supposed to do, but once he learns that the letter writer has passed on, he goes to pay the family a call. There he finds a sister and husband providing round the clock care and desperately searching for a solution. Just as he’s about to write the matter off as beyond his skills, he gets caught up in a seemingly unrelated murder, and finds himself the target of a police investigation. Working his way out of this jam will require finding his way to the few honest people in a corrupt town.
The byzantine plot whips along enjoyably despite relying on some unlikely medical science. There is also a regrettable digression where MacDonald, through McGee, offers some thoughts on race relations via a conversation with an uncooperative black witness. After I recovered from nearly cringing out of my skin, I was able to resume the story and enjoy the elegant solution.