Although John D. MacDonald published seventy novels and more than five hundred short stories in his lifetime, he is remembered best for his Travis McGee series. He introduced McGee in 1964 with The Deep Blue Goodbye. With Travis McGee, MacDonald changed the pattern of the hardboiled private detectives who preceeded him. McGee has a social conscience, holds thoughtful conversations with his retired economist buddy Meyer, and worries about corporate greed, racism and the Florida ecolgoy in a long series whose brand recognition for the series the author cleverly advanced by inserting a color in every title. Merrill carefully builds a picture of a man who in unexpected ways epitomized the Horatio Alger sagas that comprised his strict father's secular bible. From a financially struggling childhood and a succession of drab nine-to-five occupations, MacDonald settled down to writing for a living (a lifestyle that would have horrified his father). He worked very hard and was rewarded with a more than decent livelihood. But unlike Alger's heroes, MacDonald had a lot of fun doing it.
This short biography by the late Merrill (d. 2015), first published in 2000, is the perfect introduction to author John Dann MacDonald (1916 1986). A prolific writer of crime fiction, MacDonald was best known for creating salvage expert/beach bum Travis McGee, the hero of 21 novels (The Deep Blue Good-by, etc.) published between 1964 and 1984. After succinctly surveying MacDonald's childhood, education, and marriage, Merrill focuses on his subject's writing career. MacDonald sold his first story while serving as an officer in the U.S. Army in India during WWII. He did his apprenticeship in the pulp magazines after the war, and successfully shifted to paperback originals in the 1950s. His novels eventually appeared in hardcover and hit bestseller lists, and he earned respect from critics both within and outside the genre. Ample quotations from MacDonald's letters, articles, and other nonfiction convey his hard-edged, no-nonsense voice. Anecdotal material lends interest: for example, MacDonald was originally going to give McGee the first name Dallas, but after JFK's assassination, he decided instead on Travis, after the California Air Force base. This reissue includes a new afterword by MacDonald scholar Calvin Branche, a reprint of an interview with MacDonald by crime writer Ed Gorman, and a bibliography.