The sixteenth Travis McGee, The Dreadful Lemon Sky, starts off in familiar fashion. Carrie Milligan, an old friend (nudgity wink), drops by and slings a bundle of money into Travis' safe-keeping. She's a bit suspicious, but Travis trusts her (enough). When Carrie dies under mysterious circumstances, Travis is now bound by the Holy Trinity of McGeeism to investigate: dead woman, old friend & cold, hard cash.
With Meyer in tow, Travis heads up (down?) to Bayside, Florida, to see what exactly Carrie was mixed up in. He finds a seedy small town riddled with drugs, dodgy business and political corruption. Basically, the perfect place for him to get stuck in and do his thing.
Lemon defies its inauspicious name - it is one of the better Travis adventures. Part of this is MacDonald staying safely within his comfort zone. Travis is a) in Florida, b) in a small town, c) bucking the system and d) saving oppressed wimmenfolk. It also helps that Travis isn't spending the entire book with a bad case of the sulks as well.
Bayside is filled with many, seemingly unrelated villains. Cal Birdsong, the owner of the marina that Travis berths at is a drunken bully. Carrie was working for a pair of unscrupulous (now-bankrupt) businessmen, Harry Hascomb and Jack Omaha. Freddy "Ready" Van Horn is an up-and-coming politician who mixes business with pleasure a little too freely. The plot is so riddled with bad guys that the book actually requires two different climaxes (and a fair amount of deductive exposition) in order to clean them all up. The mystery is, quite literally, wrapped up in an enigma (no riddles though). The first layer of villainy is obvious, but only in the final few pages does the whole story become clear. As a work of detective fiction, this is one of the series' best.
[Editor's note: I'm afraid slight spoilers are inevitable when it comes to gossiping about McGee's love life. Sorry.]
Travis spends most of the book shacked up with Cindy Birdsong, who is the epitome of our "type 1". By the end of the book, she's evolved into a strong, secure woman (and a tiger in the sack!) who owns an almost-thriving marina in a newly-cleaned-up town. She has friends, a home, attachments & a business. So it is no surprise that she rejects McGee's offer to ditch them all in favor of a never-ending ride on his lurve-cruiser. What is surprising is that no tiny glimmer of rationality flickered in our hero's mind. This would be his perfect life. He'd work with boats all day, have a community of other drifters around him and still have a somewhat-poopy town that he could clean up on the weekends. For a man that wangs on about his loneliness, this would be the ideal way for him to make his "retirement" into a permanent home.
There's also a young woman named Joanna. She's attempting some dodginess, Travis moralizes at her until she turns into a nice person. Then she gets blown up. Had they shagged, she'd be a type 2. As it is, she's forgettable fish food. Sorry, Jo. Travis does, however, avoid sexing Carrie's little sister. He gets points there.
[Editor's note: Done with spoilers now. Come back!]
The Dreadful Lemon Sky is an unexpected high point this late in the series. Both the mystery and the setting are extremely compelling, allowing Travis to really shine in his role as roguish detective. He's also at his observational, non-judgemental best.
Travis spends a lot of Lemon watching the next generation - the awful, the beautiful and the incomprehensible. There's a hint of nostalgia in the book that fits well with Travis sailing off into the sunset at the end. The world is changing, and McGee might not understand everything any more. But he's still out there in his famous "tarnished armor, tilting at windmills". And, as irritating as the man can be, god bless him for it.
[One more note: This is the 16th in The Endless Rainbow Snark, my own Quixotic task to read and review every book in the series.]