New Releases: The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi
Collectible Titles: 2010 in Hype

Underground Reading: The Lonely Silver Rain by John D MacDonald

The Lonely Silver RainIt has been a long ride, but, in 1985, the adventures of Travis McGee came to a close in The Lonely Silver Rain.

Like The Green Ripper, this is one of the few McGee novels that I had only read once - and my memories of it were less than glowing. It has been years, but all I could remember about Silver was the overwhelming sense of anxiety and, of course, the surprising reveal at the end. (Which, I'm sorry to say, will be inevitably spoiled during the course of the review.).

Also like The Green Ripper, I was failing to account for The Lonely Silver Rain being part of the series and only appraising it as a stand-alone mystery. If Green is the high-intensity, action-packed turning point in the series, Silver is the concluding challenge. 

The Green Ripper is the bit in "Con Air" where Nicholas Cage works his way through the plane, dramatic Ranger music playing, angry cons falling left and right as he finally unleashes his inner whoopass and saves the day. The Lonely Silver Rain is the final car chase in the same movie - speeding after John Malkovich on his stolen fire truck. After a plane crash, this may seem completely unnecessary, but as a character, Nick Cage needed the personal resolution of taking out the bad man and honourably reclaiming his place in society.

The Lonely Silver Rain begins with a bog standard McGee salvage operation. A rich friend of his has misplaced his rich person yacht. McGee isn't wholly tempted to get involved in another rich person's rich problems (see Free Fall in Crimson for the moral punishment meted out when McGee takes on jobs for purely monetary reasons), BUT rich friend's vicious little trophy wife seems to judge McGee, and that gets his gizzard in a grumble. 

It turns out that finding the yacht is an easy (and very, very profitable) task. Travis essentially out-sources the problem to a pilot friend and then goes off to do some Christmas shopping. Boat located, he pays the pilot a few grand, pockets the rest and does a little personal investigation. Being insatiably curious, Travis checks out the boat before reporting it to the police - and when he steps on board, he finds a slaughterhouse.

This is one of the key points of distinction between The Lonely Silver Rain and the twenty volumes that precede it. Silver is extraordinarily visceral. People don't just die - they're horribly mutilated and violated first - all in unusually graphic detail. Even the sex is amped up somehow, with added description of the anatomy involved. MacDonald seems to have an important thematic reason for doing this. Within the book, it heightens tension, but more crucially, it is a key element in Silver's main message: Travis shouldn't be doing this any more.

Merely by stumbling on the (dead/raped/tortured) bodies, Travis is suddenly sucked into the murky underworld of the cocaine trade. Travis has mingled with drug villainy in the past, but that was always in the cozy world of marijuana. A souped-up speedboat here, an apartment complex with an in-house dealer there... nothing that's ever big or scary. Cocaine is a different kettle of fish. MacDonald deftly explains the size of the trade (zillions) and the savageness of the war on drugs (kablooie!). Most importantly, there's not a single face to punch here. Whereas Travis is an excellent vigilante on the personal scale, he's out of his league when faced with a vast expanse of global corporate evil.

A large chunk of Silver is dedicated to watching Travis stumble. Repeated attempts on his life leave small children blown up into bloody chunks (another difference between Silver and the other books - the reader is essentially desensitized to this random act of violence when it occurs). He starts tracking down the bad guys - Travis-style - but doesn't accomplish much more than getting an undercover DEA agent killed. His one friend in the mafia world, Willy Nucci, is wasting away in a suburban bungalow, dying of cancer. 

Travis, incidentally, also shacks up with Millis, the very-recently widowed little trophy wife of rich man. She's so poisonous, and the situation so yicky, that even Travis is appalled by his own actions. (Type 1 - he can't get rid of her quickly enough.)

By the time Silver winds around to its inevitable action climax, Travis is face-to-face with the conclusion that he just might not pull this one out of the bag. Fortunately, the forces of plot contrivance are on his side. For reasons still not especially clear, the Powers of Evil decide that the bad guy's head-on-a-stick will do, and if Travis can provide it, he's off the hook.

Travis provides. 

It is particularly telling that the great big reveal in The Lonely Silver Rain - that Travis has a teenage daughter - is something Travis can take in stride. Unlike being hunted down by the engines of the cokepocalypse, this is a personal problem - something that can be solved by the timely application of brutal honesty & "love letters conveniently kept in a safety deposit box". His daughter, Jean, may be a little freaked out by the whole thing, but Travis is back in his element.

Jean is, of course, the entire point of The Lonely Silver Rain - if not the entire series. Travis has become increasingly out of place, culminating in his comedic flailings in this volume. His love life has becoming increasing desperate, his adventuring more and more dangerous. Even the jobs he accepts have become more "professional" and less heroic. McGee is becoming sadly aware that his lifestyle isn't something that can be maintained indefinitely and, even with a lot of cash in the bank, it is all adding up to naught. Jean gives him meaning again, and, in the final pages of Silver, we see Travis as we haven't seen him since The Deep Blue Good-by: girl in arm, bbq on beach, focused and content.

(The girl, by the way, is "Briney" a sporty Californian blonde. Another type 1 for the little black book.)

The Lonely Silver Rain is a pretty awful book when taken on its own. The protagonist is a blundering dinosaur of a detective - prone to getting his friends, partners and local street urchins killed. He succeeds only through blind luck and improbable plot twists, given the same situation 100 times, he'd be dead by chapter two in 99 of them. But, as the capstone to a twenty-one book series, The Lonely Silver Rain is a damn good conclusion. Love him or leave him, Travis is a wildly compelling, insanely empathetic character. After sticking with him through the good and the bad and the worse and then the bad again, there's no reward like seeing him restored to his physical and emotional vitality.

[This is part twenty-one in The Endless Rainbow Snark, a re-reading of all the Travis McGee books in order.]