Tag Archives: Dave Robichaux

What Your Dad Used to Read

I am tall, and I gangle. I look like a loose-jointed, clumsy hundred and eighty. The man who takes a better look at the size of my wrists can make a more accurate guess. When I get up to two twelve I get nervous and hack it back on down to two oh five. As far as clumsiness and reflexes go, I have never had to use a flyswatter in my life.”  – Travis McGee

We are all products of our upbringing.  Many things we embrace, others we reject – sometimes very deliberately.  If it can be said that I discovered reading, it was because of my parents, my dad in particular.  Both of my parents had night tables next to their sides of the bed, and they were both piled with reading materials – mom’s with books, magazines and sections of newspaper. Dad’s was almost entirely books; paperbacks and hardcovers haphazardly stacked, double-stacked and all delicately balanced.  If they’d fallen, I’m sure the floor would have collapsed.  The top layer of books always changed, whether purchased or borrowed from the Great Neck Library – history, biographies, mathematics, fiction; he read everything.  But it was the bottom six levels of books that intrigued me, the ones that always stayed there, like the previous civilization’s layer at an archaeological site.

There were three distinct bodies of content in the subterranean collection. The first was about 5 years of Science Digest, a Reader’s Digest sized monthly (and a similar format) with articles about general science and the history of science.  I think I first learned about “Killer” Bees and Brown Recluse spiders by reading through it – and this would have been the late 60s, early 70s.  But that was just the appetizer. Digging further I found the mother lode of books for guys (no, not what you think, get your minds out of the gutter).  Better than smut, real pulp – Mickey Spillane, and even better than Spillane, John D. McDonald’s Travis McGee.  If you don’t know McGee (and unless you’re a guy over 50,) you probably don’t, Here’s what you need to know. He features in 21 novels written by John D. McDonald between 1964 and 1984, and all the titles are color coded.

image of Travis McGee

Travis McGee

I wanted to be Travis McGee.  I think many of you, once you’ve read 3 or 4 of the series, will want to be McGee too, especially the guys.  Maybe we want to see a little of him in ourselves.  Travis McGee lives in Fort Lauderdale on a custom-made houseboat  named The Busted Flush that he won in a poker game.  McGee’s address as it were, is Slip F-18 at the Bahia Mar Marina.  McGee isn’t a cop or a P.I., and he’s not a wise-guy.  He’s a “Salvage Consultant.”  He finds things (or fixes them) because his clients can’t do it themselves.  They can’t go to the law, or they already have and the system gave up, or came to the wrong conclusion and left honest people hanging. He takes on new cases when the cash runs low, or when the victimized person is an old friend or a damsel in distress.

APurplePlaceDying            Free_Fall_in_Crimson            Plainbrown

McGee is honorable in a way most of us would want to be, and honor and integrity – individual and national – is a significant theme throughout the series.  He’s a philosopher; expounding on the despoliation of Florida, the social ills facing the US, the inability of the unfortunate to get a break, and the honor and ingenuity of the every-man. It’s inferred that he served in Korea, that he played college (and maybe some pro) football, and he’s terminally single but not on the make.  There’s sex, but it’s alluded to, not described.  McGee is matter-of-fact worldly and cautious, but he’s not cynical in the vein of James Lee Burke’s Dave Robichaux – though both characters share a disdain of politicians and corporatism. Florida and Louisiana may share more than the Gulf of Mexico.

McGee is grounded by his nature, but he’s an action guy, a doer.  His impulse check is his friend Meyer, an Economist with an international reputation who also lives at Bahia Mar, on his houseboat the John Meynard Keynes. When it’s blown up (in a failed attempt to kill him,) he replaces it with the Thorstein Veblen. Meyer is cosmopolitan worldly, sometimes filling in the big picture for Travis, other times connecting the banking and legal dots, or finding related bits of information that McGee couldn’t do as easily.

Quick Red Fox            Bright Orange            Tan_and_Sandy_Silence

All this of course with landlines, AM/FM radios and televisions with CRTs (Cathode Ray Tubes.)  Al Gore hadn’t invented the Internet yet, and computers look like double-wide refrigerators with reel-to-reel tapes on them. In short Travis McGee is (in my mind) the anti chick-lit hero; he solves problems, he doesn’t revel in them.  At the end of the day he kicks back with a Boodles over ice, not shaken – not stirred or any of that other fru fru stuff.

McGee also owns a Electric Blue, custom modified Rolls-Royce that’s been converted into a pickup truck.  He calls it Miss Agnes.

– Richard


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Old Friends – Renko & Robichaux

“. . . old friends sat on their parkbench like bookends.”
–Simon & Garfunkel

If not old friends, then maybe ‘old reliable’ is a better description. We all have one or two, maybe more:  comfort foods, movies, ratty clothing, and, of course, authors. You may not even be able to articulate who they are on the spur of the moment – these aren’t necessarily your favorite authors or the best ones, but when they cross your path it’s a small slice of literary promise – you know you’re not going to be disappointed.

There are two authors in particular who’ve always made reading their works worth my while, and this is going on for almost 30 years now – Martin Cruz Smith and James Lee Burke.

There’s something comforting in the storytelling of both these writers and their all too human chief characters; Smith’s Russian Chief Inspector Arkady Renko and Burke’s New Iberia Parish Detective Dave Robichaux.

Both men are iconoclasts, always at odds with, and at the same time hopelessly entwined with the conventions of their professions.  They are – the both of them – very troubled individuals; each has their own uber-human faults, iron clad convictions (beliefs not criminal,) and their daily battles with the human condition around them.  Alcohol, alcoholism and dreams play significant parts in their lives, as does their Sisyphean efforts to make right the societal wrongs around them .

If asked, I’d rarely say that I enjoy the mystery genre and I really don’t read most of them, but Renko and Robichaux are among my “must reads” when they come out.  They’re also among the regulars I recommend when asked about a good fiction read. What I find appealing is that the whodunit element isn’t as important as the atmosphere and tension in their respective stories. These are men immersed in dark places, and I don’t know why, but I find their internal battles to be more worthy and interesting than a recitation of evidence and Agatha Christie “a-ha” moments.  Maybe it’s because I don’t have their collective demons; I get to look in from the outside.

Both Burke and Cruz have positioned their stories and principals in the events / history of the moment.  Renko has been our guide from Gorbachev’s Glasnost to the fall of the Soviet Union, to the successive emergence of oligarchic corruption and the rise of  Vladimir Putin – an eventful if not enviable Russia.  Burke’s Robichaux speaks to us of slave and slave owner descendents, dead Confederates in the bayou, Big Easy corruption, po-boys, beignets, and the physical / unworldly devastation of Katrina!

book cover - the Three Stations

book cover - Glass RainbowSmith’s latest gem is Three Stations and I came upon it very much by accident.  It’s short as novels go – about 245 pages, but it’s absorbing – the Moscow Mafia, the militia, runaway children and dead dancers.  There’s also the obligatory sidekick investigator whose vodka intake is about 50% of the annual Russian state production.  Burke’s most recent work is The Glass Rainbow.  As Dave investigates a series of murders involving the less than stand-up community icons, his daughter Alafair becomes involved with an ex-con in a setup perhaps inspired by Norman Mailer’s sponsoring of  Jack Abbot.  It’s always close to home with a little too much mortality.   If you want some exposure to the human condition – from the comfort of your own life, then you need to be reading James Lee Burke and Martin Cruz Smith.


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