Book Review : John D. MacDonald - Bright Orange for the Shround (1965)
Travis McGee is memory from a long forgotten world. A man leisurely living on a boat he won in a game of cards, taking his retirement “in installments” and enjoying life before he gets too old. He’s not exactly a private detective and not exactly Robin Hood either. Whenever the retirement fund is running low, he will help you retrieve stolen property in exchange for 50% of the value. Bright Orange for the Shroud is the sixth novel in the series. The sixth written and published over a two years period and it shows a little. It lacks the personality of its predecessors.
In Bright Orange for the Shroud, McGee is visited by an old friend named Arthur Wilkinson. The man disappeared from his circle after getting married and now looks sickly, emaciated and collapses as he reaches The Busted Flush. Wilkinson’s marriage turned out to be a long con meant to take all his money away from him via a sketchy land development deal. With the help of old friend (and former lover of Arthur) Chookie McCall, they will nurse him back to health and McGee goes after the con artists. Because the retirement fund is running low and whatnot.
What usually makes Travis McGee novels so unique and tantalizing relationship between McGee himself and the person he’s helping. He becomes borderline obsessed not just by the situation, but by the person herself and always ends up working from an inexplicable sense of duty to a broken soul. This relationship is absent from Bright Orange for the Shroud. Wilkinson (a man), inspires more pity than fascination from McGee and the plot doesn’t really hide something greater than the sum of its parts, but a con artist team gone astray for reasons that aren’t entirely clear.
So, Bright Orange for the Shroud fails to deliver the compelling plot and psychologically compelling relationships of previous Travis McGee novels. His short-lived relationship to Vivian Crane (one of the con artists’ wife) was far more interesting to the one he had with Arthur and one could argue he ended up working avenge her more than to recuperate his friend’s money. That’s one of the details that made Bright Orange for the Shroud worth reading anyway. Another one would be the return of sassy and energetic Chookie McCall, who never lets McGee bullshit her.
Chookie exemplifies another point that fascinates me with John D. MacDonald’s writing. While Travis McGee is a man of his time and cannot seem to think of women outside of their sexuality (the first thing he says about Chookie is that she’s a 39-26-39), female characters themselves are some of the most complex and interesting in MacDonald’s fiction. I was so happy to see Chookie from The Deep Blue Good-By back because she’s not accessory to McGee’s endeavors. She chooses to help Arthur and him because she’s a caring person. She’s the best human being in this novel.
Bright Orange for the Shroud is the most skippable Travis McGee novel I’ve read, so far. If you’re not hellbent on going through the entire thing, don’t feel guilty to sit this one out. It was like a boxing card without a main event. It had all the peripheral details that makes Travis McGee novels great, but not THE showstopper that keeps everyone coming back. Anyway, John D. MacDonald didn’t gets the yips or anything. I’m going to review Darker Than Amber later this month it’s probably the best in the series alongside The Deep Blue Good-By. Stay tuned!