Reasoning with Vampires

Underground Reading: A Tan and Sandy Silence by John D. MacDonald

A Tan and Sandy Silence The 13th McGee takes up right where its predecessor stops: with Travis caught in the midst of a funk.

Travis is in one of his longer relationships, an extended fling with Lady Gillian Brent-Archer. A vastly wealthy, ageless widow, Lady Gillian is pushing Travis to quit his nomadic life and join her in the islands. Travis, starting to worry about his own mortality, is tempted - but he's crippled with the fear of being a "kept man" .

The whole situation adds up to a grumpy Travis. He's fairly rude to Lady Gillian, grumpy with Meyer and, frankly, a little off his game. When an old acquaintance, Harry Broll, shows up and starts shooting at Travis, our hero is left with a real case of self-doubt. Not only did Broll show up for no reason (searching for a wife that Travis hasn't seen in years), but McGee's Spidey-Sense normally warns him before he enters a situation in which he's about to be shot at.

He's old. He's slowing down. He can't trust his instincts. And some rich widow wants to kidnap him for a life of luxury. Poor Travis.

The proper response to a midlife crisis? Adventure! Clinging to the hope that he can be of use of to someone (anyone? anyone?!), Travis goes in search of Harry's missing wife, Mary. Travis did shag Mary once upon a time (shock!), so he's a little offended that she'd dare do a runner without telling him first. How could any woman in Travis's life do anything without telling him first? Again, obsolescence looms.

It doesn't take too much poking around to see that Harry is involved in something dodgy - and his search for his missing wife is more about her money than any sort of lingering marital affection. Travis quickly finds out that Mary's packed up her things and headed to Grenada. Rather than ending his search there (and having to face a reckoning with Lady Gillian), Travis flies out just to make sure she's ok. 

A Tan and Sandy Silence-1 Mary is, of course, dead. Her plush Grenada hotel room is occupied by a disguised French-Canadian con artist, Lisa, who is playing the missing Mary until whatever financial MacGuffin that motivates Harry goes through. Travis susses out the con and dives in, head first. This is his chance to prove himself. Somehow these people are possibly involved with the death of someone that Travis once slept with years ago! VENGEANCE WILL BE HIS!

The entire adventure is sadly lackluster - completely overshadowed by Travis' endless whining about his own futility. MacDonald, sadly, concludes the book with "easy outs" as well. Lady Gillian absconds with another piece of beach-meat whilst Travis is in Grenada. And Harry was never actually trying to kill Travis - meaning that Travis' supernatural death-sensing instincts were accurate after all. Reassured that he's still filled with awesome and no sexy widows are about to press gang him into a life of luxury, Travis ends the book with his confidence restored.

A Tan and Sandy Silence isn't completely absent of redeeming values. In Paul Dissat, the French-Canadian sociopath, MacDonald has created one of his most sinister figures. Dissat is a terrifying figure - not just Travis's physical equal, but also a genius of criminal planning with no regard for human life. The brief scene in which a concussed Travis witnesses Dissat's brutal murder of his cousin Lisa stands out as one of the most haunting moments in the series. MacDonald has no problem adding goofy action into every book (for example, the conclusion of this one...), but genuine horror is a rarity.

Besides Lady Gillian Brent-Archer (3) and Mary Broll (3), Travis concludes the book with a budding fling with Jeannie Dolan (1, presumably). Dolan's a charming young woman in Broll's company, who shows up to conveniently restore Travis's faith in the opposite sex. (Travis's faith being, "I have faith that there's an endless supply of vaguely-meaningful womanflesh for me to sex-nap on my loveboat").

A Tan and Sandy Silence also includes one of Travis's more surreal encounters. Whilst in Grenada, he encounters the Hell's Belle, captained by Mickey Laneer. The Belle is crewed entirely by naked women. Businessmen fly into Grenada, charter her for a few days, and avail themselves of all the comforts offered. The house rules? "No pairing off with anyone exclusively, no balling on the deck" and "if a gal is wearing pants, it means hands off. Otherwise grab whatever is passing by". Travis meets with a few of the crew and interrogates them to assuage his own sense of guilt. The lesson - that most of them are doing it because they have "no other choice" (the Captain's words) - seems to comfort him, so he avails himself of giggling Teddie, the "Minnesota Swede" (2). The whole chapter is like something out of the Penthouse Forum, but achieves a special level of hypocrisy as it follows fifty pages of Travis spitting venom at Lisa Dissat for her casual devaluation of "the act of love".

A Tan and Sandy Silence is an unfortunate punt of a book: the feeble plot is overwhelmed by Travis's self-indulgence. Any chance of developing his character is lost when MacDonald gives him the easy way out of every situation. The highlight of the book is an agonizing death scene, which, frankly, says a lot.

[Editor's note: All of our Travis reviews can be reached from here: The Endless Rainbow Snark.]