The world could use another Travis McGee right now. In the two decades since he's been gone, many readers have profoundly missed writer John D. MacDonald's knight errant and salvage expert. He wasn't a detective in any classic sense. He was just a good, decent man people went to when they needed justice.
Miles Young, the hero of Ian Vasquez's first novel, In the Heat, makes for a good new-age McGee. The locale is even more tropical than McGee's Fort Lauderdale houseboat — Young lives in Belize — but the problems and the hero's pragmatic solutions mark the connection between the two.
Young is definitely a product of the modern age. Like McGee, he is athletic; he is coming to the end of what was a promising boxing career. He is devoted to his daughter; his major purpose in life seems to be protecting her from danger and, occasionally, from her mother. Money is always short for a boxer moving the wrong way down the card, so he picks up a freelance job.
A hero back home because of his stateside success in the ring, Young is patted on the back from one side of the city to the other. But a wealthy local woman wishes to see him — not for any hero worship, but to give him a mission. Her teenage daughter has run off with a loser boyfriend, who also happens to be the son of the thuggish former police chief.
Figuring everyone will want to talk to Young, the local hero, she waves a wad of money at him larger than any boxing purse he could obtain. Thus the new knight errant goes to work.
In MacDonald's masterful storytelling, the plot points were often secondary to character and atmosphere. Vasquez, who is a copy editor at the St. Petersburg Times, also knows that the real pleasures of mystery novels don't have so much to do with who done it as with how it was done.
William McKeen teaches journalism at the University of Florida.