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July 2018

The Deep Blue Goodbye

The Deep blue Goodbye

The business card reads: “Travis McGee: Salvage Consultant. But he doesn’t do the sort of salvaging you expect.

If your property or money has been wrongfully taken from you, McGee will do all he can to get it back to you and he charges a flat fee of half of its value. Fair enough; it’s a hazardous trade McGee practises.

But he will only do it if he likes you, and if he isn’t successful you pay nothing. He takes his retirement in instalments, when he’s young enough to enjoy it, and only usually works when the money is running low.

This serious of  books, by John D. Macdonald, are all written in the first person, (at least the ones I’ve read are) and in them McGee often goes off on a tangent on the messed up world he lives in.


He is part idealist and part cynic but he knows how the world works, especially when dealing with the thieves, sharks, and con men, and their victims. Even back then in the ‘60s, he has concerns about the environment and what mankind was doing to it.

The Deep Blue Goodbye is the first book in the series, first published in 1964. Catherine Kerr’s father, a soldier, smuggled home a great deal of money after World War 2 and buried it somewhere on the family farm.

Just before his discharge he drunkenly killed an officer and went on the run. But the army caught him and went to jail for life, where he meets the psychotic Junior Allen, who finds out about the money.

When he finishes his sentence, Allen goes out to the Kerr farm and oils his way into Catherine’s affections, while he searches for the money. He finds it one day, and he’s away. Now he has expensive clothes and a nice new boat.


Catherine tells McGee this aboard his houseboat Busted Flush, which he keeps moored at Fort Lauderdale, a few miles up the coast from Miami Beach:

        “She looked at me with soft apologetic brown eyes, all dressed in her best to come talk to me. The world had done its best to subdue and humble her, but the edge of her good tough spirit showed through. I found I had taken an irrational dislike to Junior Allen, that smiling man. And I do not function too well on emotional motivations. I am wary of them.
And I am wary of a lot of other things, such as plastic credit cards, payroll deductions, insurance programs, retirement benefits, savings accounts, green stamps, time clocks, newspapers, mortgages, sermons, miracle fabrics, deodorants, check lists, time payments, political parties, lending libraries, television, actresses, junior chambers of commerce, pageants, progress, and manifest destiny.
I am wary of the whole dreary deadening structured mess we have built into such a top-heavy structure that there is nothing left to see but the glitter, and the brute routines of maintaining it.
Reality is in the enduring eyes, the unspoken dreadful accusation in the enduring eyes of a worn young woman who looks at you, and hopes for nothing.”


Junior Allen turns out to be a very nasty piece of work and McGee has taken on a very dangerous job. Of course, I’m not going to tell you how it ends up; I don’t do spoilers.

If you like the Reacher books by Lee Child, you will like these. Indeed, in this YouTube video Lee Child cites the Travis McGee books as a great influence. You will notice that all the books in the series have a colour in the title; One Fearful Yellow Eye, The Green Ripper, and Nightmare in Pink, the second book, are just three of them.

The Deep Blue Goodbye is a good place to start reading about Travis McGee's adventures; unlike many characters, he ages as time goes by and changes over time like we all do.

Geoffrey Wellum, Spitfire pilot


Within ten months of leaving school, Geoffrey Wellum was flying a Spitfire as the youngest pilot in 92 Squadron. Nicknamed ‘Boy’, he was posted to the squadron in May 1940 before his training was completed, aged just eighteen years and nine months. When he joined the squadron he had never even seen a Spitfire, but he soon saw action in the Battle of Britain.

Geoffrey Wellum had to grow up rather quickly. Fighting for your country, killing the enemy, risking death yourself, and seeing your friends and fellow officers die isn’t for boys; it’s for men. You can see in the photo at this link, flight Lieutenant Brian Kingcome (left) and Flying Office Geoffrey Wellum (right). They are 24 and 20 years old in the picture, but their eyes look older than their years.

Geoffrey Wellum First LightFirst Light, at first light.

Wellum wrote his memoirs, never intending them to see publication, but years later passed them on to author James Holland, who wanted to do research for a new novel. Some memoirs are dry reading, but Holland was impressed enough to pass the memoir over to Penguin Books, who published it as First Light in 2002.

I bought this book a couple of months ago, and it’s a really good read. It doesn’t always go smoothly for Geoffrey Wellum especially during his training, but he describes his failings as honestly as his successes, and with feeling and detail. While looking through First Light today to find quotations, I found myself reading it again, and had to force myself back to work to finish this post.

When Wellum first arrives at 92 Squadron his Commanding Officer isn’t too pleased that he has been sent there before his training was finished:

        “‘Well, I haven’t got time to train you and that’s flat. this squadron was re-formed a few months ago and what’s more it’s going to be a damn good squadron. None is going to be better. We were declared operational yesterday and we are waiting for our first action, which, if I’m not very much mistaken, will be any hour now at Dunkirk. We have the best aeroplane in the service, or in the world for that matter, and if you break one there will be merry hell to pay."

Spitfire at RAF Little RissingtonGeoffrey Wellum trained here at Little Rissington in Gloucestershire. The late model Spitfire on this postcard is now on display at the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum, McMinnville, Oregon. 

Of course Wellum soon learns to fly a Spit., and at last becomes a fighter pilot, which is what he wanted. Later in the book, he describes going into combat:

        “Voices over the R/T. Urgency.
        ’109s above the first lot coming round to six o’clock, 3,000 feet above.’ ‘Six more at four o’clock high.’ ‘I see them, they’re starting to come down, here they come, watch ‘em, Blue Section. Break into them, Blue, break starboard, break for Christ’s sake.’
        Things are starting to get rough. Automatically I have followed my self-emposed drill that I always do at times like this. Reflector sight on; gun button to fire; airscrew pitch to 2,650 revs; better response. Press the emergency boost over-ride, lower my seat a notch and straps tight. OK, men, I’m all set. Let battle commence. Please, dear God, like me more than you do the Germans”

It’s like being in the cockpit with him. I recommend this book whole heartedly. It’s one of the best I’ve seen of this genre.

You’ve probably already heard that Geoffrey Wellum passed away on July 18th, aged 96, having been born on August 4, 1921. There’s just a handful of these men left, now. Let’s not forget them.

First Light (2002) By Geoffrey Wellum

I had never heard of Terry Pratchett before.

In the early 1980s I started a new job in Aylesbury, Bucks. From then on I made frequent visits to the two book shops in Kingsbury square, Weatherheads and, er, the other one. Can anyone remember its name?

The other one had a good science fiction section and I found quite a few good books there. One book told the story of a Dom Sabalos:

Probability math, the infallible science of foretelling the future, has predicted his assassination in twenty-four hours. But, by an extraordinary paradox, it has also predicted that he will go on to discover the fabulous, almost mythical world of the Jokers — the gods of the universe.
When, by a million to one chance, Dom survives the assassination attempt, he takes his destiny in his own hands and sets out in search of the Jokers.”

        (From the back cover)

I bought the book. It was called The Dark Side of the Sun, and was by an author I didn’t know: Terry Pratchett. I liked it, and when I saw a copy of his book Strata a year or so later, I bought it like a shot. The books in the photos are those same copies.

I looked forward to his next book, but searched the science fiction shelves in vain. After two or three years I gave up and assumed he had stopped writing, and I wondered what had happened to him whenever I read either book again.

Dark Side of the Sun for blogCan anyone tell me what the relevance of the background is, and the character in which early Discworld novel it refers to?

Then one day the book Wyrd Sisters came to my notice, and at first I didn’t register the author’s name. It wasn’t the first Discworld novel, but I hadn’t been looking in the fantasy shelves. I was quite surprised and pleased to see who it was by. The rest is (Discworld) history…

 Once I’d read several Discworld novels I began to notice things in my first two Pratchett books. These two quotes are from The Dark Side of the Sun:

        “Joan closed her account book and began to play with a white-hilted knife.
‘In a few days it’ll be Soul Cake Friday, and also the Eve of Small Gods,’ she said”

It was Soul Cake Thursday in the novel Guards, Guards, and the Eve of Small Gods gets a mention in Sourcery.

        “On Widdershins it was Hogswatchnight, which coincided with Small Gods in the greater Sadhimist calendar.”

Hogswatchnight is, of course, in the book Hogfather.

Strata detail

In Strata Terry Pratchett tried out a much bigger idea; a flat Earth. In Strata it is a product of technology and the whole book is a parody (but not a cruel one) of Larry Niven’s Ringworld. In Strata, our explorers are viewing this discworld from their spaceship:

        “They watched the waterfall slide past under high magnification. There were rocky islands, some tree-lined, overhanging the drop. It was a long drop — five hundred miles into a turmoil of steam. But the disc itself was only five miles thick. As the ship passed under the disc there was nothing but a space-black plain on the underside.
‘Some humans used to believe the world was flat and rested on the backs of four elephants,’ said silver.
‘Yeah?’ said Kin. ‘What did the elephants stand on?
‘A giant turtle, swimmingly endlessly through space’
Kin tasted the idea. ‘Stupid.’ she said. ‘What did the turtle breathe?’
‘Search me. It’s your racial myth.'”

Of course, some early Discworld novels were also parodies (but with their own internal consistencies) before the idea grew and matured into a complex and logically arranged world.

The Dark Side of the Sun detail

These days I might just have spotted the first Discworld books a little earlier, possibly the only good thing to come out of the deplorable modern book shop practise of mixing all the fantasy and science fiction works into one category. Sometimes the horror books are chucked in there too.

Often, I just can’t be bothered with searching through swords and sorcery epics and tales of romantic vampires, just to see if there’s any decent scifi. At least I know the Pratchett books will still be there when the categories are mixed up; they are of course with their consistent logic and rules, science fiction.

The Dark Side of the Sun (1976) and Strata (1981) both by Terry Pratchett

How to find classic science fiction writers you’ll Really Like.

Fed up and bored with all the alien invasion, post apocalypse science fiction? Looking for clever and inventive ideas with surprise endings? Want to read great stories from the masters? Time to try some Golden Age short stories.

Double eclipse 2A couple of rocket ships and a planet. Well, it’s science fiction, right? : )

Continue reading "How to find classic science fiction writers you’ll Really Like." »