The Deep Blue Good-by was the first of 21 novels in the Travis McGee series by American author John D. MacDonald. Written by MacDonald at the request of Fawcett Publications editor Knox Burger, the book set the tone for the McGee series, establishing the protagonist's investigative style, his Florida residence, and the chromatic linkage MacDonald followed on all subsequent McGee novels by creating titles with colors. Two of MacDonald's non-McGee novels also use colors in the titles (A Flash Of Green and The Girl, the Gold Watch & Everything).
MacDonald was quoted stating that he considered all the novels in the McGee series as one long story in many installments on the life and times of Trav, as McGee preferred to be called. As such, The Deep Blue Good-by is a good starting point for new readers interested in the series. While each of the 21 novels adds more information on the history, background and psyche of McGee, one of the more interesting aspects of the series is seeing him mature, evolve and age through the decades. At the same time, we see the American culture change, from the Kennedy/Camelot years in The Deep Blue Good-bye through the upheaval of hippie counterculture of the late 60s and 70s until the last book in the series at the end of the Reagan Revolution in the mid-80s. As a chronicler of the cultural Zeitgeist, MacDonald has been compared favorably with Charles Dickens. Reading the McGee novels in sequence therefore gives the reader a fascinating experience of seeing McGee change through the decades as American culture also changes.
The Deep Blue Good-by introduces readers to McGee, his place of residence, the Busted Flush (a houseboat he won in a poker game), and its mooring place, slip F-18 at the Bahia Mar Marina in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. In the early chapters we learn that McGee is a bachelor, a man who can be friends with ladies as well as have a passion for them, and a man of principle (although they are somewhat at the mercy of his uncertain emotional condition and his circumstances at the moment; In McGee's own words, "Some of them I'll bend way, way, over, but not break."). We also learn that McGee is by occupation a Salvage Consultant, a concept almost certainly coined and developed by MacDonald. (As a "Salvage Consultant," McGee undertakes to recover for its rightful owner money or property of which the owner has been wrongfully deprived and has no other hope of recovering, taking half its value as his fee.) McGee works when he has to, almost always only taking jobs when his supply of money (kept in an ingenious "hidey-hole" aboard the ""Flush"") is low. In one tale, however, McGee avenges the murder of a long-time friend. In another, he is asked by the daughter of a friend to find out why her husband is trying to kill her. While he can be mercenary at times, he is not a mercenary.
Another feature of the McGee series is the seemingly unending parade of colorful and invariably evil villains whom McGee must contend with in order to make a recovery for his clients. In this first story the antagonist is Junior Allen, a smiling, seemingly friendly man, large, "cat quick", powerful, and pathologically evil. The story begins with a fortune smuggled home after World War II by a soldier who was a native of the Florida Keys. This soldier killed another soldier just prior to his discharge, went on the run back to the Keys, and buried his treasure there. He was later captured by the U.S. Army and sent to a military prison, where he met Junior Allen. Allen discovered vague details about the fortune hidden in the Keys and after his release from prison went there to find it. The story depicts the psychotic behavior of Allen as he evolves from thief to serial rapist to murderer. We see McGee's savvy, guile, and physical prowess as he works methodically to locate Allen and eventually make the recovery. As is thematic in many of the McGee books, however, he pays a heavy price for the successful recovery. Throughout the series, in fact, it is debatable as to whether McGee ever makes a recovery in which the costs do not outweigh the gain.