It was the standard blackmail scheme. For years, sultry Lysa Dean's name on a movie had meant a bonanza at the box office. Now a set of pictures could mean the end of her career. When first approached for help by lovely Dana Holtzer, Lysa's personal secretary, Travis McGee is thoroughly turned off by the tacky details. But being low on cash, and tenderly attracted by the star's intriguingly remote secretary, McGee sets out to locate his suspects -- only to find that they start turning up dead!
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"The world is shiny and the surface is a little too frangible. Something can reach out of the black and grab you at any moment. Everybody wears a different set of compulsions. You can be maimed without warning, in body or in spirit, by a very nice guy. It is the luck of your draw. I did not feel like a nice guy." - John D. MacDonald, The Quick Red Fox
A solid, early addition to the Travis McGee series. All the cynical, hard John D. MacDonald prose I could ask for. Part of what I love about MacDonald is his ability to both write like a cheap 10¢ noir novelist and at the same time like an iconic, modern-day Cassandra. 50-years ago, inside these pulp detective novels, he was warning past readers about our sick, slick present. Reading MacDonald is to constantly come across sentences and paragraphs that fill you with unbounded joy. Seriously. Here he is describing San Francisco:
"San Francisco is the most depressing city in America. The come-latelys might not think so. They may be enchanted by the sea of mystery of the Nob and Russian and Telegraph, by the sea mystery of the Bridge over to redwood country on a foggy night, by the urban compartmentalization of Chinese, Spanish, Greek, Japanese, by the smartness of the women and the city's iron clutch on the culture. It might look just fine to the new ones.
But there are too many of us who used to love her. She was like a wild classy kook of a gal, one of those rain-walkers, laughing gray eyes, tousle of dark hair -- sea misty, a lithe and lovely lady, who could laugh at you or with you, and at herself when needs be. A sayer of strange and lovely things. A girl to be in love with, with love like a heady magic.
But she had lost it, boy. She used to give it away, and now she sells it to the tourists. She imitates herself. Her figure has thickened. The things she says now are mechanical and memorized. She overcharges for cynical services."
But he is best when he is bemoaning the loss of privacy, the loss of liberty, the creep of industry an government interference.
"I get this crazy feeling. Every once in a while I get it. I get the feeling that this is the last time in history when the offbeats like me will have a chance to live free in the nooks and crannies of the huge and rigid structure of an increasingly codified society. Fifty years from now [this book was originally published in 1964, so 2014] I would be hunted down in the street. They would drill little holes in my skull and make me sensible and reliable and adjusted."
Not quite Philip K. Dick, but close. Different genre, different prophet writing in the wilderness, but same damn brain-dead apocalypse.