John D and me: David Morrell
by David Morrell
I can’t explain why I hadn’t been aware of what I later called the MacDonald “color” series. After all, the McGee books had been around since “The Deep Blue Good-by” in 1964. But in 1979, “The Green Ripper” was published (about McGee confronting a group of domestic terrorists, long before most people imagined such a thing), and the clever title caught my eye. I read it with an intensity that matched its plot and immediately returned to the bookstore where I’d found “The Green Ripper.” I purchased the seventeen Travis McGee novels that preceded it, carrying the armload to my car. Every afternoon that summer, after I finished writing five pages of my own fiction, I luxuriated in the reward of sitting on my back porch, a cold beer at hand, reading them all.
What a joy. What a mythology. McGee’s houseboat, The Busted Flush, and the fascinating community at Bahia Mar marina in Fort Lauderdale. His economist companion, Meyer, whose words of wisdom about investing still ring true. McGee’s tragic girlfriends. His fondness for Boodles gin. Thanks to MacDonald’s vivid storytelling, I felt I was there and knew McGee and Meyer well enough to call them friends. There would be three more McGee books after “The Green Ripper,” concluding with “The Lonely Silver Rain” in 1985. Those final three were published over a span of six years. Now, instead of rushing through them, as I had with all those volumes in my greatest summer of reading, I savored them.
MacDonald died from heart-surgery complications in 1986. I have a letter from him, dated that year, in which he responded to a “thank you” note of mine—which brings me to his second gift to me. Back in 1972, when my debut novel, “First Blood,” was published, introducing the character of Rambo, MacDonald had honored me with my very first publicity quote, giving an unknown author a boost from a legend. I never forgot his generosity, and for some reason, in 1986, I felt compelled to thank him again.
Let’s jump forward to 1991. That summer, I was invited to give a talk at a reading festival in Fort Lauderdale, my first time in Florida. For the Saturday afternoon of that conference, I didn’t have any duties, so I used the opportunity to walk to nearby Bahia Mar marina. My goal was to find slip F-18 where The Busted Flush was supposedly moored.
I soon discovered that MacDonald had invented slip F-18. But I used my memory of the McGee novels to figure out where slip F-18 would be if it had existed, and in a moment as powerful to me as that summer twelve years earlier, I found this historical marker: “Dedicated to the ‘Busted Flush,’ home of Travis McGee, fictional hero & salvage consultant, created by John D. MacDonald, author, 1916-1986. Designated a literary landmark, February 21, 1987.”
David Morrell is the author of “First Blood,” the novel in which Rambo was created. His latest is a Victorian mystery/thriller, “Inspector of the Dead.”