Best known for his hardboiled detective series featuring Florida "beach bum" and amateur sleuth Travis McGee, the late John D. MacDonald is one of the most influential names in crime fiction.
One of the most influential names in crime fiction, John D. MacDonald (1916-1986) was born in Sharon, PA, received his M.B.A. from Harvard University, and served in the OSS in India during WWII.
MacDonald's literary career began accidentally. While he was still in service, he wrote a short story, purely for entertainment. He mailed it home to his wife, who sent it to a magazine without his knowledge. The story was accepted. When MacDonald was discharged, he decided to try his luck at writing for a living. After dozens of submissions and rejections, he finally sold a story to Dime Detective, one of the popular pulp magazines of the day.
For several years, MacDonald made a decent living writing mysteries, Westerns, crime stories, and science fiction for the pulps. Then, in 1950, just as the demand for paperback books was increasing, he made the crossover to full-length fiction with The Brass Cupcake, a classic hardboiled detective novel featuring mobsters, corrupt cops, and a disaffected loner who falls for a beautiful woman. The writer had found his niche!
During the 1950s and '60s, MacDonald specialized in hardboiled crime novels -- mostly set in Florida, where he and his wife had moved after the war. For a long time, he resisted the siren call of series fiction. Then, in 1964, he succumbed -- introducing his legendary amateur sleuth Travis McGee in The Deep Blue Goodbye. A cynical knight errant and self-described beach bum who lives in Ft. Lauderdale on a houseboat named "The Busted Flush, McGee went on to star in 20 more adventures. His influence as a "type" can be clearly seen in the writing of several contemporary crime writers, including Carl Hiaasen, Lawrence Block, and George Pelicanos.
Throughout his long, prolific career, MaDonald would alternate the McGee books with standalone novels, nonfiction, and short story collections. As a genre stylist, he is without peer; yet most critics agree that his literary skills transcend the limitations of genre. Perhaps the novelist Kurt Vonnegut said it best when he made this shrewd assessment: "To diggers a thousand years from now, the works of John D. MacDonald would be a treasure on the order of the tomb of Tutankhamen."
Good To Know
Although MacDonald always included a color in the titles of the Travis McGee novels, he never used either black or white.
Several of MacDonald's novels have been adapted for movies -- most famously his 1958 novel The Executioners, which was filmed twice as Cape Fear.
Carl Hiaasen wrote this in the introduction to the 1994 reissue of The Deep Blue Goodbye: "Most readers loved MacDonald's work because he told a rip-roaring yarn. I loved it because he was the first modern writer to nail Florida dead-center, to capture all its languid sleaze, racy sense of promise, and breath-grabbing beauty."