In the beginning, there was John D. MacDonald. And lo, it was good.
Then John D's protagonist — handsome, hairy-chested hero Travis McGee — begat other knights errant, including a loveable serial killer, an amateur-sleuth photographer, a renegade roadkill-eating former governor and a crime-fighting marine biologist.
And lo, it was really good.
John D. MacDonald nearly created the whole Florida crime genre with his McGee novels, which he sprinkled over the couple decades before his death in 1986.
But he lives on in the influence he brought to the works of Carl Hiaasen, Tom Corcoran, Tim Dorsey, Randy Wayne White and a score of others.
All of those writers created laconic, self-sacrificial heroes. Hiaasen's novels don't really have continuing characters other than Skink, the governor who went off the grid a few decades back and became an eco-terrorist. (John D would approve.)
Dorsey's hero is Serge Storms, a loveable serial killer (he kills only bad guys). Corcoran's Alex Rutledge is a Key West photographer who gets pulled into solving murders in the Southernmost City.
For my money, it's Randy Wayne White's Doc Ford who remains the most McGee-like of protagonists. He lives a McGee-like life on the water, though across the peninsula from McGee's slip at Bahia Mar. McGee was a "salvage expert," who never seemed to want for money. Doc Ford sells marine specimens to colleges, museums and public schools, and earns just enough to afford his boat and beach house on Dinkin's Bay, down on the Sanibel coast.
Like McGee, who has Meyer, the hirsute economist and fellow sleuth, Doc Ford has Tomlinson as an erudite foil, ying to his yang. And both of them have whispered pasts, which may or may not involve histories with the CIA and black ops.Night Moves (Putnam, $25.95) is the latest — and 20th — Doc Ford novel and hits stores this week. It is as rich and immensely satisfying as anything that White has written.
This time, Doc and Tomlinson are chasing the wreckage of a squadron that disappeared into the Bermuda Triangle. Along the way, Tomlinson is having an affair with a married woman. Doc doesn't approve, of course — he's a moral titan, much like Travis McGee — but he isn't sure what to make of things when the married woman keeps sleeping over at his apartment. Of course, assassins are on the trail of Doc and Tomlinson, and we have a lot of Florida folklore, adventure and Haitian drug dealers.
What more could you want for a good time?
Doc Ford is definitely his own man and White couldn't imitate another writer if he tried. Though we mourn the loss of John D and Travis McGee, we can rejoice that we have Randy Wayne White and Doc Ford.
White has a great online presence at docford.com and has two restaurants named after his creation — one on Sanibel and one across the bridge on the mainland. You'll find directions on the site, where you can learn more about White's earlier career as a fishing guide and his other missions — to share the love of all things maritime, and to take baseball equipment to Cuban kids.
Here's my Creative Loafing profile of White from 2009.