Tough Guy Lit: John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee Series

By Sean Tuohy

Before “Miami Vice” brought Crockett and Tubbs to Miami there was another tough detective who called South Florida home. Travis McGee, the first detective of South Florida crime fiction, is a witty beach bum who lives on a houseboat (which he won in a card game) docked in Fort Lauderdale.

In the years before the Cocaine Cowboys and Flo Rida, South Florida was nothing more than a retirement heaven and beach getaway. John D. MacDonald, a former military spy, published Deep Blue Good-By in 1964 and made the area seem like a cool place to visit. He explored the beach of Fort Lauderdale, the swamps of the Everglades, and the rocky shoreline of the Keys.

McGee wasn’t a true detective, but a “salvage consultant” who would only work when he had to. McDonald gave McGee a deadly wit and brain unlike any other gumshoe in crime fiction. He also stands out because he wasn’t hardboiled. He works because his life style demands it.

McGee isn’t a bloodthirsty, gun-toting, mad dog trying to catch the bad guys. He’s just a smart fellow who enjoys entertaining women on his houseboat so much that he has to take cases to finance everything.


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