Question #30, 12/04/18
From Randolph Ferris:
“After reading “Depth of Winter”, I was struck with the thought of when I read “The Green Ripper” by John MacDonald. The hero, Travis McGee is like Walt, a former military vet, and faces a much better armed and numerous enemy, yet manages to defeat them by having what McGee called a “John Wayne Day”, where things just go your way even when they shouldn’t…
Just wondering if Mr. Johnson was familiar with the Travis McGee series, since I often find similarities in both Walt and Travis in their philosophies, even though their lifestyles and locale are so far apart.”
Depth of Winter was a departure for sure in that Walt usually isn’t facing off against such numbers at such odds, but the build-up with Thomas Bidarte warranted something epic. There have been readers who thought it was over the top, but I think you have to stretch the envelope a little just to keep from being predictable, and then there are others who think Walt should’ve gone further… So, I guess I hit the middle, somewhere in there.
You know, up until about a month ago the only John D. McDonald book I’d read was The Executioners which was made into the film Cape Fear. I hadn’t read a single John D. McDonald Travis McGee novel but remembered an American Playhouse film from the eighties that I’d enjoyed, A Flash of Green with Ed Harris, Blair Brown, and one of my favorite actors, Richard Jordan. I was in a bookstore on tour in the fall, spotted the title again, grabbed the book, and started reading it and it was marvelous. Although not a Travis McGee novel, it gave me a great appreciation for the writer and his works.
I have to admit that I’ve only read two of his books and started another, but even with such a small sampling, the thing I really enjoy about his writing is the effortless pacing and the breezy characters. As you stated, there are major differences between Travis McGee and Walt Longmire, but I have to agree that there are similarities as far as their outlooks on life and human behavior. Difficult to make a comparison since the characters are from two very different periods, but I think both are responding to the elements of their lives that make them who they are. McGee doesn’t appear to have the tragedies that Walt has, and I think his womanizing is another compensation for a life that he might enjoy but inevitably feels to be something of a lack of fulfillment.
Of course, I’m writing about a Vietnam vet from the distance of age. The McGee character was written in the sixties so he’s a relatively young man, whereas Walt is at least in his sixties and with time come changes. My wife says they’re both charismatic characters and men of thought, which never hurts…
I think the humor is key, as always. Travis McGee has a wry outlook on society and the people who populate it, and I think that’s something that he and Walt most certainly share. Crime fiction tends to deal with characters at their best and their worst and is best handled with a certain amount of delicacy which I think both of those characters understand.
I’ve since read a few interviews that McDonald gave, and he strikes me as a marvelous individual, OSS in WWII who wrote his first short story and mailed it home to his wife who submitted it to a literary magazine where it was accepted—basically starting his writing career.
I certainly would’ve liked to sit down with him on that houseboat with a beer and talk over the craft.
All the best,