The Green Ripper, John D MacDonald, Fawcett Gold Medal, 1979.
Some books from earlier eras age very well, every bit as readable as when they were written, some even find a more appreciative audience many years after the first publication. But while looking through a few books in the Travis McGee series, I became worried that this highly regarded series would seem dated. I looked for one of the more recent books, one that was also mentioned in places as one of the best. I picked up this one, not sure if it met the second criteria, but it met the first.
I suspect it was more of a sensation when first published. It is, for better or worse, very much in the style of much 70's adventure fiction. The characters talk a great deal, they follow leads and uncover a few facts which lead them somewhere else. In this case a female character is introduced as McGee's latest girlfriend, and of course we read how awesome she is, McGee wants to marry her. Then very quickly she is killed off. McGee wants revenge. She was, it is obvious, killed off by a cult. In the seventies cults probably seemed even more mysterious and weird than they do now. Today they are a familiar menace, then they were a new menace. Anyway, McGee spends most of the book following leads, discovering that government agents are also after this cult, and not much else.
Finally McGee decides to join the cult as a way of finding out who killed his girlfriend and then killing them. Luckily for McGee, the group he joins are not regular cult members, they are part of some special cult militia getting military training. Either the author did not know about cult brainwashing techniques, or he ignored them. Just their possibility makes joining a cult to get information a very stupid idea. But the hero is lucky, this section of the cult is a military section.
McGee is told he cannot leave, but is allowed to wander around the base/ compound and ask any questions he pleases and have them fully answered. They even give him a woman to - well I am not sure what she is supposed to be doing, watch him perhaps, but her author-purpose is to supply sex scenes and give plot information. The absurdity builds until the action finale.
This novel is silly really, and I hope not an example of the Travis McGee greatness which so many write about, because this book certainly isn't.