Sarasota’s most famous author, John D. MacDonald (July 24, 1916-Dec. 28, 1986), would have turned 100 today. He was the choice for this year’s “One Book One Community” program in which the local communities read the same book and then participate in book discussions and related events. (In fact, Selby Public Library in Sarasota is planning an all-day John D. MacDonald Centennial Birthday celebration today.)
With a writing career spanning more than 40 years, John D. MacDonald is best known for the 21 detective-style novels he wrote featuring Travis McGee, (although he authored 78 books in total), the 1977 novel “Condominium” and 1957’s “The Executioners,” which became the basis of two “Cape Fear” film adaptations. The library owns the 1962 version starring Robert Mitchum and Gregory Peck. The plot concerns an ex-con, Max Cady, who is determined to destroy Sam Bowden, the man who sent him to prison for rape. Like many authors, MacDonald was not overly fond of how his book was adapted for the film.
MacDonald’s first Travis McGee novel, “The Deep Blue Good-by,” was published in 1964 with the series ending 20 books later with 1985’s “The Lonely Silver Rain.”
Although MacDonald wrote many excellent standalone novels, he is perhaps best remembered as the creator of Travis McGee, salvage consultant, philosopher and “knight errant.” Travis lives aboard a houseboat called “The Busted Flush” that he won in a poker game and is moored at Slip F-18, Bahia Mar Marina, in Fort Lauderdale. Travis “recovers” things that people have lost or had taken from them. If something has monetary value, he takes 50 percent of the recovery. When he runs low on money, he goes back to work.
MacDonald’s first Travis McGee novel, “The Deep Blue Good-by,” was published in 1964 with the series ending 20 books later with 1985’s “The Lonely Silver Rain.” To read the series in order, go to www.fantasticfiction.com and then do an author search. The Travis McGee series titles will be listed in publication order. The Manatee County Public Library System owns every title in the series except for two (“Darker than Amber” and “The Scarlet Ruse”), but you may request these through our InterLibrary Loan service. Some of these titles are also available on the Library’s “OverDrive” eBook database.
Of course, you also can pick and choose titles at random to get a feel for the character and MacDonald’s plotting and writing style. Some titles that fans particularly enjoyed include “The Deep Blue Good-by,” “Pale Gray for Guilt,” “The Long Lavender Look” and “The Green Ripper.” Curious why there is always a color included in the title? It was a mnemonic device suggested by his publisher so that when travelers in airports looked to buy a book, they could see at once those MacDonald titles they had not yet read.
Kurt Vonnegut honored the author by saying, “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.” MacDonald was the first to set a thriller series in Florida and influenced subsequent authors like Carl Hiaasen, Randy Wayne White, Dean Koontz, James W. Hall and Tim Dorsey.
An excellent source of all things MacDonald may be found on the website jdmhomepage.org. Cal Branche, a “JDM” expert and aficionado, started the website in 1996.
Speaking Volumes, written by Manatee County Public Library System staff members, is published each Sunday. Fran Barba is a reference librarian in the Manatee County Public Library System.
If you go
What: John D. MacDonald 100th birthday celebration
When: Beginning at 10:15 a.m. today
Where: Selby Public Library, 1331 First St., Sarasota