Travis McGee and his patient friend Meyer are poodling down the road after a friend's wedding. They've gotten a little lost, but are now making good time through the Everglades. All of a sudden, a naked woman (beautiful, of course), sprints across the road. Travis has lightning reflexes (especially with nude hotties involved) and avoids hitting her - but at the cost of putting his beloved car into a ditch.
Confused, damp and in the middle of nowhere, Travis and Meyer spend all night hiking back to the nearest small town (and occasionally dodging bullets). Once there, things really start to get weird...
The Long Lavender Look (the 12th in the series by John D. MacDonald) has all the optimal elements from previous Travis McGee books, but fails to combine them. There's a small town setting (my favorite), a happy absence of "luscious and/or dead female client" (thank god) and even a bit of proper mystery (huzzah!). But, for many reasons, it never comes together.
If anything, The Long Lavender Look is a complete reverse of my expectations. Despite the elements above, the bulk of the story is a dull. But the twist ending - including the now-predictable-over-the-top action sequence - is one of the book's few virtues.
Part of the problem is that Travis has reverted to some of his more reprehensible behaviour. He combines self-awareness with self-absorption in an astoundingly hypocritical fashion. One example: Travis and Meyer are picked up by the local sheriff and accused of murder. An overzealous (and drug-addled) deputy has some fun beating on Meyer - mostly as a warning sign to the stroppy Travis.
Travis spends approximately two paragraphs feeling sympathetic for Meyer - and then a hundred pages wanging on about his quest for vengeance. A quest that the peaceful Meyer would sooner avoid. At every opportunity, the crusading McGee drones on about the horrors inflicted on his friend, the most peaceful, wonderful, good man in the world (whether or not the audience is interested - much less involved.) Meyer? Meyer is back in Florida, recovering with the help of some beach vixens. Travis, however, uses the incident to prompt his normal, messy, self-involved, catastrophic journey through the entire town. Somehow Meyer's bruising becomes Travis' martyrdom.
Travis bears (and creates) his burden in a few other places as well. Whilst investigating the small town's seedy past, Travis tracks down Betsy, a local waitress famed for her oversized breasts. Enormous bosom aside, Travis isn't a fan. He thinks she's a little dim (she is), naive (she definitely is) and overly romantic (yup). Entertainingly, he accuses her (mentally) of "Doris Day-ing" the situation - layering her fantasies over the real world. (I know no other character that does that...) Still, it makes for a handy situation - Travis easily woos Betsy into revealing her secrets. Travis also does a lot of complaining about being taken to bed as well - claiming he's been "mouse-trapped" into the situation - stuck with "an obligation to play the role". Of course, in between bouts whining, Travis doctors Betsy's drinks. Classy. Travis has the decency to feel awful about it in the morning... and then dives back in for a quickie.
Betsy unfortunately fits the now-familiar bill as someone that would be more interesting dead than alive, and John D. MacDonald obliges. Alive, she's a "type 1" - Travis can't wait to get rid of her. Betsy is a sweet little drippy thing, and she's driving him nuts. He does, graciously, permit her to wait on him hand and foot (my favorite aside is when he eats the dinner she makes him before she even gets a chance to get seated and serve herself), but that's just part of his noble sacrifice. However, when Betsy dies - well, at that point Travis realizes what a noble, perfect, selfless creature she was. Woez, the tragedy, poor Travis, robbed of someone before he could dump her himself, etc. etc. etc. (As she dies before Travis could dump her, Betsy is officially classified as a Type 2. Congrats.)
The Long Lavender Look isn't a complete loss - as mentioned earlier, the dramatic action finale is brilliant. Travis is trapped in a rickety trailer - one deranged killer (sexy female, nude, bound) on the bed, another (angry male, large, armed) lurking outside. Armed only with a half-dozen oyster knives, Travis makes a break for it... There's also one of the series' genuinely surprising tricky, traitorous endings as well. The ultimate bad guy comes from an unexpected quarter, and Travis suffers because of it.
Those readers losing sleep about the unfortunate Heidi Geiss (frigid, cured, raped by Nazis, frigid again, cured again) from One Fearful Yellow Eye, she makes a reappearance in the denouement. Apparently post-thawing, she's happy to help Travis recover from his ordeals - I mean, the poor man was forced on a crusade of vengeance and then trapped into having sex with the loveliest woman in town. Thankfully, Heidi is to hand to help him recover.
(As a fan of continuity, I will always wonder what happened to Raoul, the cat that Travis adopts at the end of this book.)