New Releases: Aurorarama by Jean-Christophe Valtat

Underground Reading: A Deadly Shade of Gold by John D. MacDonald

A Deadly Shade of Gold 1965 brings the fifth book in the Travis McGee series: A Deadly Shade of Gold, by John D. MacDonald. The longest so far, the adventure takes Travis from Florida to New York (he still hates it) to Mexico to California. Only Canada is spared the attentions of the overly-affectionate Mr. McGee.

Travis has also been taking his Internet-ordered medications as well, as he makes up for his vaguely monogamous experiences of the previous two books and goes a-woo-ing for an incredible six women. 

Fortunately, A Deadly Shade of Gold is more sex ed coursework than a mystery, so Travis is given plenty of time to spread his seed.

The book begins with an old friend returning to town: Sam Taggert. Sam and Nora. Travis and Nicki. This gay foursome used to tear up the Florida docks - going fishing, playing drinking games, giving one another long, lingering glances. Sometimes they'd burst into laughter for no reason at all, life was just that sweet

But something went wrong. Sam got cold feet. Filled with shame, he hit the road. Nora struggled on, alone, and life just wasn't so sweet any more.

Now, three years later, Sam's back. He's got a line on something good - and has an ancient Indian gold idol to show for it. He just needs to sell it to a mysterious underworld connection, then he can re-unite with Nora forever. That, in no way, spells certain disaster.

Unsurprisingly, Sam winds up dead. Nora and Travis team up to catch the bad guys (that, in no way, spells certain guilty shagging). First Travis flies to New York to do some research, then the two jet down to Mexico to track down the bad guys. Finally, Travis hits California - the bad guys in his sight, he just needs to instigate the violent showdown to conclude the book. 

A Deadly Shade of Gold This is vaguely straightforward, but MacDonald squishes about six different plots in one - by the end, no one is certain who the good guys are, who the bad guys are and who actually killed Sam in the first place. 

This is, to give the author some credit, intentional. The book is a swampy morass of moral ambiguity that leaves everyone involved with a bad taste in their mouth. Especially Travis.

But, enough of the so-called plotting and on with the shagging. Travis spends most of A Deadly Shade of Gold hopping into bed, and it would be unfair not to give his bevy of beauties their time in the spotlight.

(If you haven't been following the earlier reviews, all Travis's conquests end in one of three ways:
1 - too easy to care about.
2 - murdered by necessity.
3 - dump Travis to get on with their lives.
So far, everyone falls into these three categories...)

Nicki (3): Nicki is history by the time the book begins. Travis' party in the lively foursome, they didn't have much to go on when Sam and Nora broke up. Nicki wanted kids... a house... the PTA... essentially, she grew up, and left Travis behind.

Betty (1): Betty is the dodgy antique dealer in New York that helps Travis identify the mysterious gold statue. She also makes a bargain with Travis to buy the full set - apparently the creepy little icon is one of 28. Betty married into the dodgy-antique business, and, even with her husband dead, she enjoys the work too much to quit. She bargains hard, wears a suit and is exactly the sort of powerful woman, playing at a man's job that creeps Travis out. Naturally, they go to bed. And predictably, he runs off afterwards. The hungry Betta Borlika isn't good enough for Travis' scavenger ways. 

Nora (2): We haven't had a proper tragic death for a while, but Nora steps up to fill the gap. Midway through their Mexican adventure, the reality of Sam's tragic life (and death) becomes too much for his old girlfriend. She breaks down in the middle of a resort dinner and flees back to her room. Travis fortifies himself with a few drinks then breaks in via their shared balcony. No teary ex-girlfriend of a former friend stands the ghost of a chance against Travis' patented comfort method (at least he doesn't punch her first). Nora and Travis, despite the obvious, screaming ICK! of the whole situation, turn their hunt for Nora's ex's killer into a romantic getaway. Alas, in a one-in-a-million accident, a boat blows up and shoots the better part of a railing through Nora's impressive chest. Bye.

Felicia (1): When Travis and Nora track Sam's trail back to Mexico, they find a small, port town. They also find Sam's ex, a local prostitute named Felicia. Since McGee's method of investigation is to shag everyone Sam did, it is only a matter of time before these two wind up in bed together. Travis rejects Felicia at first (she's a prostitute, and, as we learned in Nightmare in Pink, Travis only pays for sex with Asian women), but after one particularly distressing turn in the investigation, he gets drunk and comes a-calling. (Nora, for the record, is still alive at this point, but forgives him. What a spectacular woman. Must've been love. Shame about the flying bannister.)

Junebug (1): After the Night of the Flying Railing, Travis heads to California to confront the ultimate bad guy(s). He needs someplace to stay that's off the radar, so instead of getting a motel room and paying in cash (sneaky...), he randomly hooks up with a local secretary named Junebug. He winks at her, convinces her into letting him stay at her neighbor's place and then spends the next few chapters rejecting her lukewarm advances. Junebug has a fiance in Canada, so she only flirts with him to feel good about herself. Travis, who isn't feeling so good about himself, calls Junebug over and does his McGee thing to her. He's lonely, needs a warm body, and what's someone else's marriage to him? (Answer: Not much.)

Connie (1 & 3): McGee's final conquest is the formidable Venezuelan expat, Connie Melgar. Connie is everything Travis doesn't like - she's a big, loud, pushy, trophy hunter who treats men like meat. She's brutally honest, she talks a lot and she always gets her own way. She's not one of Sam's ex's, she's too big to punch and she's not the type to burst into tears - god alone knowns how Travis weasels this one into the sack, but he does. The two spend most of A Deadly Shade of Gold's lengthy and dull denouement alternatively shagging and arguing. Travis doesn't really like Connie. Connie knows Travis is no good for her. The reader is thoroughly sick of both of them. When Connie eventually dumps Travis and rides off, it is a relief to everyone.

Exhausting. Fortunately, Travis doesn't have much else to do.