Book Review : John D. MacDonald - The Quick Red Fox (1964)
Travis McGee is a long-forgotten private detective who was popular at an interesting time in contemporary history. He appeared in twenty-one novels from 1964 to 1984 and witnessed social changes that shaped the world we live in today. The Quick Red Fox is the fourth installment in the series and explores a theme that is gloriously of its time: Hollywood. It's good. There's definitely a mastery to John D. MacDonald's writing, but this one's interesting for reasons that have little to do with its plot or its themes.
In The Quick Red Fox, Travis McGee is visited by a woman named Dana Holtzer on his houseboat. She's working for a Hollywood starlet named Lysa Dean, who is being blackmailed over compromising photos of her. It's never stated explicitly, but there seemed to have been somewhat of an orgy/gangbang going on, so McGee starts working his way up the list of people present on the photos. Lysa Dean's blackmailer has been working that list way before McGee did, though and getting to the truth is going to be a giant clusterfuck.
So, I enjoyed The Quick Red Fox for a reason that's completely removed from its plot. Travis McGee is one of these character who's evolving from novel to novel and his relationship to women takes a big step forward in this book. John D. MacDonald always wrote complex and nuanced female characters, but Dana Holtzer's understated charm gets to McGee in a way the others didn't and fuel him with the desire of doing right by her. So, it's a different, nicer Travis McGee on display in The Quick Red Fox. And his rapidly evolving romantic relationship ends up taking precedence on the story because of that.
Because, you guessed it, the mystery of The Quick Red Fox is a little tepid for John D. MacDonald's standards. It really is Travis McGee working his way up a list of people and that list is way too freakin' long. It's all he does for 75% of the book and it somewhat chokes out the dramatic potential of it. But then again, the mystery of The Quick Red Fox is somewhat on the backdrop of wonderful character development. Whoever said John D. MacDonald was a misogynist (and there are people saying that), can't see past the first degree here. His female characters are, by far, the most complex and enthralling in twentieth century detective fiction.
The Quick Red Fox was the fourth Travis McGee novel published in 1964, so I guess there was a tiny bit of creative exhaustion to it. Don't get me wrong, it's better than whatever detective novel you're reading now. But it requires context and a certain desire form the audience to go off the beaten path. The Quick Red Fox is definitely a character over formula type of novel and I don't see anyone who's not already into Travis McGee enjoying it. But if you're already sold on the character like I am, The Quick Red Fox is somewhat of a paradigm shifting novel that'll make you enjoy him even more.