Created by M.(ichael) E. Knerr (1908?-1984?)
Travis, a 1962 paperback original, marks the debut and probably only appearance in print of MIKE TRAVIS, a sailor of fortune, who loves life, and woman, especially women. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what other reasonably well-known character was the inspiration for him.
As we are solemnly informed, Travis (wink) had previously been in the charter boat business (wink, wink) in Florida (wink, wink, wink), but when times went bad, he went to California to accept an offer from a former client, a multi-millionaire named Del Houston, to look him up if and when Travis headed out that way.
And Del does indeed have a job for him. After some quick string-pulling and the greasing of certain political hands, Del hands Travis a PI license and a gun, and a three-fold request: to find his son; get him off narcotics; and break up the gang whos been supplying them.
Its not a bad opening for a P.I. yarn, and the story maintains its way reasonably well for about half of its just under 160 pages: the usual P.I. stuff, the things that P.I.s do, and the usual bad things happen to some of the people who just happen to get in the way, with all of the coincidences that make one or more aspects of one P.I. investigation dovetail nicely into another.
Even though it goes without saying, Ill say it anyway. Travis himself is one of those guys who is irresistible to beautiful women. In this book that includes both his employers foster daughter, from page 20
"She had a body to make dead men come to life and dead women come back to haunt their living husbands. With a skin tone tanned to an almost artistic hue, hair the color of a burnished copper skillet, eyes as blue as an ocean trough and lips as soft and warm looking as an afternoon at the beach, Abby Houston was a woman to set pulses racing and libidos leaping. Mine was right up there too."
and a stripper who tripped him into a pool at Houstons house the first time they met. From page 68:
Marcia, if that was her real name, was rigged up in the getup of an Indian squaw, but the way she filled out the tan buckskin and beads of her ensemble would have made Pocohontas whirl in her grave. If this was an example of the way that Indian women of a hundred years ago, I could see why the west had been wild.
I think you can tell a lot about a story by looking closely at how the author describes his characters, dont you?
It doesn't help that ending doesnt directly address the clues that have been set up for it. The action-packed finale careens out of control, and then promptly withers away from lack of interest, as if there were a deadline that had to be met, and it didnt matter precisely how things were wrapped up.
Granted, there are a few flashes of acceptable writing, and even an occasional brief glimpse of something better than acceptable, but the overall impact of this novel is still rather like a third-rate Carter Brown or a tenth-rate John D. MacDonald. If youre a fan of either of these writers, you know what Im talking about -- and whom youd be far better off pursuing.
One of the reasons for collecting and reading unknown and long-neglected works of mystery fiction is the hope I foster that one day I'll discover an unknown and long-neglected classic of mystery fiction. Travis reminds me once again that sometimes you have to settle for unknown and long-neglected.
And Travis certainly qualifies as both. It was published by Pike, one of those small sleazy paperback outfits in the early 1960s that promised far more in the way of sexual hijinks than they ever delivered -- or could ever deliver at the time. If you snapped this one up in 1962 for its sexy parts, drawn in perhaps by the come-on ("Soldier of fortune... lover of women") and the obligatory babe on the cover, youd be sadly disappointed. Youd have been far better off buying a copy of Peyton Place.
Travis wasn't even originally listed in Al Hubins Crime Fiction IV (although Al assures me it will make it to the Addenda). The author does appear, however, and what information I have uncovered from Hubin's and other internet sources is scanty indeed. Knerr appears to written mostly paperback originals for such D-grade publishers as Belmont/Tower and Pike. Titles include Brazen Broad (1961), Port of Passion, Sasquatch: Monster of the Northwest Woods (1977) and The Sex Life of the Gods (1962), which was billed as Science Fiction erotica.
And so the hunt continues. If anyone knows anything more about M.E. Knerr, please contact me.
Adapted from a December 2006 entry in The Mystery*File by Steve Lewis. Used with permission.
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