Darker Than Amber
by John D. MacDonald
Published by Fawcett Crest
1 Out of 5 Stars
Holy shit snacks. I can't believe I read the whole thing.
First off, let's get one thing straight. Reading this was a dare. All parties involved, including myself, knew I would most likely despise this book and find it a vile-coated offering with a noxious nougat center. I started to shelve this bad boy as "book rape" until I remembered that I had willingly agreed to subject myself to this slow torture and I didn't even have to be double dog dared. I'm that kid from A Christmas Story who willingly licks the frozen flag pole just because someone thinks I won't. I may need to reassess my response to challenges after this. Oh, and I should also state that there are likely to be spoilers.
In Darker Than Amber, Travis McGee and his whip smart buddy Meyer are fishing under a bridge in the middle of the night when somebody drops a perfectly good whore over the bridge (people are so wasteful--she had lots of good tricks left in her), chained to a cement block. McGee rescues her and thus stumbles upon a prostitution ring that has a habit of lovin' up and then killing its johns by dumping them off cruise liners. McGee decides this must end because whoring is wrong (*cough* hypocrite*cough*) and oh, yeah, one of the prostitutes has $32,000 stashed somewhere that's his if he can find it.
So, without further adieu, let the hatin' begin:
A) You know, it's actually kind of hard to truly hate this book because it's so dated it reads almost as a parody of itself. Every man in here is all hopped up on testosterone and adrenaline, while all of the women are highly sexualized nymphettes. Men are meant for fighting and women are meant for screwing after the fighting is done. The only thing differentiating the men is whether or not there's a brain behind the brawn and athletic prowess. The only thing that differentiates the women is cup size and whether or not you will have to leave money on the nightstand after the screwing is done.
B) From what I gather, Travis McGee is a beloved literary figure. Well, I can certainly see why. Nothing is more lovable than a misogynistic sea cock (which I shall forever think of him as after he describes having a cleverly hidden stash in the boat's sea cock and I thought, "No, sir, you are the sea cock.") One might argue that, no, McGee doesn't hate women--look at how many women have had the exquisite and life changing opportunity to experience his magical sea cock. One would be a dumb ass to argue such. Sleeping with women doesn't equate respecting women. At one point, Meyer tells McGee, "You like women as people. You do not think of them as objects placed here by a benign providence for your use and pleasure." To which I say, bull shit. I don't like the cut of that gibberish. All he does is objectify them. After a lengthy description of their sexual attributes--after every swell of breast has been noted, after every curve of hip has been cataloged after every ass has been analyzed--he immediately culls these potential sexual conquests into one of two categories: worthy of the sea cock and not worthy of the sea cock. Depending upon to which group a woman belongs, she can expect to be called "kitten," "pussycat," "honey," "broad," "punchboard," "slut," "whore," or "bitch." I detect a strong whiff of misogyny in the air.
C.a) But at least McGee uses his sexual prowess for good sometimes. In the beginning of the novel, he regales us with the story of Vidge, a housewife who worries that she has become "frigid" after her domineering husband has made her doubt her own sexuality. Poor Vidge. She'll never enjoy sex again. Paging Dr. Cock! Dr. Sea Cock! Oh, McGee has the cure for what ails her. He takes her "swimming, fishing, beachcombing, skindiving" and then takes her pants off after he's tired her out to the point of least resistance (life was so much tougher before roofies) and reminds her of why it's good to be a woman. McGee found some "pleasure in the missionary work"--pun intended?--but it's something of a sacrifice because "dealing at close range with a batch of acquired neuroses can make your ears ring for a week."
C.b) What's good for the gander apparently isn't good for the goose. Despite his admission that he's done his fair share of sleeping around, McGee seems to think that too much sex can ruin a good woman. From the philosophical musings of McGee: "I have the feeling there is some mysterious quota, which varies with each woman. And whether she gives herself or sells herself, once she reaches her own number, once X pairs of hungry hands have been clamped tightly upon her rounded undersides, she suffers a sea change wherein her juices alter from honey to acid, her eyes change to glass, her heart becomes a stone, and her mouth a windy cave from whence, with each moisturous gasping, comes a tiny stink of death." Right. So we women apparently die a little each time we sleep with someone new. But maybe that's because our morals have been compromised, whereas, when McGee shags nasty, he's just out there doing the Lord's work amongst the frigid masses. What an asshat.
C.c) Sleeping with hundreds of women? Living on a houseboat? Specializing in frigidity reduction therapy? Does anyone else see a connection between Travis McGee and Leon "The Ladies Man" Phelps? I fully expected McGee to proposition a woman with the old, "Hey, sweet thang. Can I buy you a fish sandwich?"
D) After saving Vangie (the aforementioned whore), McGee seems to have respect for her intelligence and is actually proud of her refusal to scream after being tossed to her death. However, after a second and more successful attempt is made to kill Vangie, McGee seems to suffer from "When they're dead, they're just hookers!" syndrome. Suddenly, he begins rhapsodizing about how "she was a cheap, sloppy, greedy slut" and philosophically wondering, "Wasn't the world maybe just a little bit better off minus one slut?" This inconsistency in character continued throughout the novel and really made me dislike McGee because I felt I could never really get a firm hold on the character. Is he meant to be a likable scofflaw, a salty Casanova, a greedy knight in somewhat tarnished armor? And this isn't the result of complexity of character. What he say or does at one point in the novel is often at complete odds with something he says or does at another point in the novel. If anything, I'd say he suffers from a lack of definition and is often as 2 dimensional as the female characters.
E) I was baffled by the whole plan to bring down the prostitution ring in the end. It seems like Meyer and McGee go to some ridiculously complicated lengths when simpler ones would have sufficed. Like the whole hiring an actress to play Vangie bit or the buying a doll and making it look like Vangie to freak out her killer. Yeah, because nothing messes with the mind of a stone cold killer like the old Madame Alexander porcelain doll scheme. Those dolls are creepy as shit.
After finishing this book and giving an audible sigh of relief, I noticed the promo for the next book: "Now that you've finished this Travis McGee adventure, we bet you can't wait for another exciting case. To satisfy your craving, please turn the page . . . " In case you're wondering, I did not turn the page as this is where I and Travis "Sea Cock" McGee shall forever part ways.