All 20+ Travis McGee Books in Order [Ultimate Guide]

The Travis McGee books in order were published during the middle of the twentieth century. These books are the precursor to some of the most popular series and characters in the genre today. Unlike the detective stories of the early twentieth century, Travis McGee was a bit brasher and more focused on vigilante justice that would bring him money.

Travis helps those who have been swindled or taken advantage of by finding what’s been stolen from them, for a fee of 50 per cent of the found fortune. In many ways of personality and back story Travis mirrors his author, John D. MacDonald and readers find the series undeniably compelling with millions of copies in print around the world.

About John D. MacDonald

Before John D. MacDonald became an author, he was an intelligence officer during the Second World War. His impressive military career, in addition to his MBA from Harvard, meant that MacDonald was on a similar trajectory as many during this period to becoming a corporate executive.

But instead, MacDonald made the decision to write instead. He began by selling stories to magazines. MacDonald then spent several years writing pulp-magazine stories and science fiction before he began to write crime, which would lead him to the creation of Travis McGee.

According to Lee Child, the mind behind Jack Reacher, the Travis McGee books are some of the best mysteries.

As well, the very popular editor and bookshop proprietor Otto Penzler was John D. MacDonald’s editor and publisher throughout his career. Penzler says that MacDonald was a shrewd businessman in addition to being an author, which led to many branding and marketing successes.

One thing to note to a modern reader, however, is that the Travis McGee books in order were written during the 1960s and 1980s. Therefore, they are a true product of the time. As a result, MacDonald’s depiction and McGee’s treatment of women feels out-of-date for a modern reader.

Unlike the popular modern vigilante Jack Reacher, Travis McGee never sees women as his equals. He finds women as damsels in distress and is always saving them from evil, so there is an imbalance of power apparent throughout the series.

However, MacDonald is relatively balanced throughout the series and created more rounded characters that were lacking in genre fiction from the 1960s to 1980s. The series has sold more than 40 million copies.

MacDonald died in 1986, which marked the end of the Travis McGee series.

Travis McGee Books in Order

John D. MacDonald carved out a niche for Travis McGee within the mystery fiction genre. Travis calls himself a salvage consultant and his clients have always been robbed of something of value, which he will hunt down and take his 50 per cent cut at the end.

McGee only picks up jobs when he is running low on cash or if there is a personal connection to the case, because above all else he wants to maintain his laid-back Florida lifestyle. He lives on a houseboat that he won in a game of poker, and would much rather spend his time fishing than travelling across the country.

But he does end up doing that throughout the course of the series, several times, although his deep affection and love for Florida’s ecosystem remains paramount.

While each book contains its own mystery, it is best to read the Travis McGee books in order of publication. The first book will provide you with the best introduction to Travis and explain his backstory. This is also the chronological order.

  1. The Deep Blue Good-By (1964)
  2. Nightmare in Pink (1964)
  3. A Purple Place for Dying (1964)
  4. The Quick Red Fox (1964)
  5. A Deadly Shade of Gold (1965)
  6. Bright Orange for the Shroud (1965)
  7. Darker Than Amber (1966)
  8. One Fearful Yellow Eye (1966)
  9. Pale Gray for Guilt (1968)
  10. The Girl in the Plain Brown Wrapper (1968)
  11. Dress Her in Indigo (1969)
  12. The Long Lavender Look (1970)
  13. A Tan and Sandy Silence (1973)
  14. The Scarlet Ruse (1973)
  15. The Turquoise Lament (1973)
  16. The Dreadful Lemon Sky (1974)
  17. The Empty Copper Sea (1978)
  18. The Green Ripper (1979)
  19. Free Fall in Crimson (1981)
  20. Cinnamon Skin (1982)
  21. The Lonely Silver Rain (1985)

A Summary of Travis McGee Books in Order

It is best to read the Travis McGee books in order of publication, and below you will find the summaries to the first ten books. These summaries will provide a bit more context to the balance between beach bum and vigilante that Travis McGee is and the threats he faces up against.

The Deep Blue Good-By Travis McGee Books in Order

1. The Deep Blue Good-By

Travis McGee is a self-described beach bum. He lives on a houseboat, Busted Flush, and he won his home in a card game. He would much rather spend his time fishing, but knows that he needs to work as a salvage consultant to keep his cash flowing.

He’ll find whatever his clients have lost and retain 50 per cent as his fee. He’s not desperate for cash when Cathy comes to him for help, but he can’t refuse her. She was tortured by her manipulative ex-boyfriend Junior Allen and he stole her inheritance.

As Travis begins his search for the lowlife, he finds Lois Atkinson frail and broken, Junior’s latest victim. It turns Travis into Mother McGee as he helps Lois and continues searching for the ruthless man. But he cannot guess how violent his search is about to become.

Nightmare in Pink John D MacDonald

2. Nightmare in Pink

One of the very few people who can convince Travis McGee to leave his beloved houseboat in Lauderdale is an old army buddy who saved his life. For him, Travis will even travel to New York City.

His friend’s younger sister is in trouble. Her fiancé was just murdered in what the authorities are calling a standard mugging, but Nina knows better. Her fiancé had been digging around and found scandal at his real estate investment firm. The type of scandal that scum would go to great lengths to keep secret.

Just as Travis is getting close to the truth he is drugged and taken captive. Not only must he keep his promise, but now Travis must get himself out of this alive.

A Purple Place for Dying Travis McGee

3. A Purple Place for Dying

Travis McGee finds himself in need of a job, which is why he has gone out West to meet with a woman in trouble. It is a strangely secretive meeting in a beautiful place that is hiding ugly and dangerous secrets.

Mona is in love with a young college professor…but she is married to a wealthy man that she thinks is stealing from her trust fund. So, she hires Travis to steal her money back so she can run away with the love of her life.

For his part, Travis isn’t sure he wants to get involved…until he sees Mona murdered. Now Travis is a lead suspect and to clear his name he’ll need to get to the bottom of things.

The Quick Red Fox John D MacDonald

4. The Quick Red Fox

Famous movie star Lysa Dean is not like the damsels in distress Travis usually rescues, but there is a sadness lurking beneath the surface of her efficient assistant that compels Travis to help.

Lysa posed for naked photos at a party near Big Sur and now she needs Travis to stop the extortion, so the photos don’t get out. If they do, her strait-laced fiancé will most definitely end their engagement. That is how Travis ends up working alongside her assistant Dana Holtzer.

As they’re tracking down people from that evening, they end up on a chase around the country while murders begin piling up. The attraction between Travis and Dana also begins to get hot and steamy. But then one big twist shakes McGee’s life to his very foundation.

A Deadly Shade of Gold Travis McGee Books in Order

5. A Deadly Shade of Gold

Travis McGee picks up the phone and hears a voice from his past, which leaves him with no option but to throw himself into the new case. It will also give him the chance to reunite Sam Taggert with the woman who is still waiting for him. It starts as a matchmaking scheme, but it quickly turns into a bloody chase.

When Sam left his girlfriend Nora and vanished, no one was surprised. But three years later he is found murdered and Travis must find the answers. His only clues are a gold Aztec idol and a very angry ex-girlfriend.

Bright Orange for the Shroud Travis McGee

6. Bright Orange for the Shroud

Travis McGee had high hopes for a summer with no real responsibilities, but trouble has a way of finding him no matter what. An old friend has been conned out of his life savings by his ex-wife and is desperate for help.

Arthur Wilkinson was once an amiable and decent young man with a considerable inheritance. Then he met Wilma Ferner and as soon as she became Mrs. Wilkinson, it only took her a year to leave Arthur bankrupt and broken.

At first it seems like an easy job, but it becomes dangerous when Travis faces off against a dangerous foe in the Florida swamps. Now McGee’s life is on the line alongside Arthur’s fortune.

Darker Than Amber John D MacDonald

7. Darker Than Amber

Travis and his friend Meyer settle down for some midnight fishing when a woman falls into the water from the bridge above them. Her name is Evangeline and the story she tells them hints at a less than pristine past. But McGee has saved her, and he wants her to make a new life, even if it means confronting a gang of murderers.

Evangeline is the target behind a complex scheme, but she is no ordinary victim. She has a past of luring men onto her boat and throwing them overboard after robbing them. Now she’s counting on Travis and Meyer to steal her “savings” back.

But when she turns up dead, they must involve themselves. The stakes are high and deadly…and Evangeline may not be the only casualty of her cruel game.

One Fearful Yellow Eye Travis McGee

8. One Fearful Yellow Eye

Glory Geis only needs to ask for help, and Travis McGee is on his way to Chicago to help his ex-girlfriend. Glory was the wife of world-renowned neurosurgeon Dr. Fortner Geis and is a new young widow. But no one knows where the doctor stashed the cash from his considerable estate before his death.

Everything thinks Glory is hiding the lost fortune, but she doesn’t know where it is. So, she wants to find the money and who stole it to prove her innocence. That’s why she reached out to her old flame Travis McGee.

Someone extorted $600,000 from a dying man very quietly and with skill. As he begins investigating, Travis realizes there are some people who want nothing more than to destroy the Geis family. He’s starting to actually like a few of the family members, so he vows to bring the guilty party to justice.

Pale Gray for Guilt Travis McGee Books in Order

9. Pale Gray for Guilt

Tush Bannon was resisting pressure to sell his motel and marina before he was found dead. Tush was an old football buddy of Travis McGee’s and a devoted family man. He loved his wife and three kids, and was always optimistic about his business.

So, even though his death is ruled a suicide, Travis suspects murder. Tush’s land is right in the middle of five hundred acres of prime real estate that influential money-makers have decided they need.

Tush never knew he was dealing with a criminal element in the offers for his land, but the guilty party didn’t care. They killed him and walked away, but they never counted on the gentle giant having a not-so-gentle friend like Travis McGee. And he is going to make them pay.

The Girl in the Plain Brown Wrapper John D MacDonald

10. The Girl in the Plain Brown Wrapper

Travis McGee has already helped the family twice, but when Helena Pearson Trescott dies, he learns that she has one more request for him. He must find out why her daughter, Maureen, keeps trying to kill herself.

Even though he doesn’t think there is much that a beach bum can do for a troubled young mind, Travis makes his way to Fort Courtney. But he quickly realizes something is not right. Not only has Maureen’s doctor killed herself, but there is a string of murders and suicides piling up with no answers.

Then just as it seems impossible for things to get any stranger, McGee becomes the lead suspect in the murder of a local nurse. Now the man on a mission to save Maureen will need to save himself first.

Final thoughts

The Travis McGee books in order depict a Robin Hood-esque man who helps those in need who have been taken advantage of. Travis McGee predates Jack Reacher, but Lee Child has been very open about how much he looks up to John D. MacDonald and the impact MacDonald had on his career.

The Travis McGee series is complete and it is best to read these books in order of publication for the best reading experience. This will follow the chronological order and properly introduce you to the compelling character of Travis McGee.

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