Tuesday, November 04, 2008

THE AMERICAN DETECTIVE NOVEL: ROSS MACDONALD


Ross MacDonald's real name was Kenneth Millar. He was born near San Francisco in 1915 and raised in Ontario, Millar returned to the US as a young man and published his first novel in 1944. He won the Crime Writer's Association Gold Dagger in 1965 for The Far Side of The Dollar, and was awarded a Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America in 1974. 
His detective Lew Archer [changed to Lew Harper] was played by the late Paul Newman in the films The Moving Target and The Drowning Pool.

In The Way Some People Die published in 1951 Lew Archer is asked by Mrs Samuel Lawrence to find her missing daughter, Galatea. She was last seen with a small time hoodlum, Joe Tarantine. Galley has the dangerous good looks that men die for and Archer finds himself driving from Palm Springs to San Francisco as he tries to find Tarantine and a large quantity of heroin. There are some difficult times along the way as Archer finds bodies piling up and runs into big time gangsters, alcoholic actors,hustlers,  heroin pushers and teenage prostitutes before he solves the case. 

'Dowser's a solid citizen. He's got a swimming pool and a private bar to prove it. He entertains politicians in his charming ranch-type home on an exclusive hilltop. He even supports a butler and a blonde.'

It had been a very long time since I read any Ross MacDonald and found the first person narrative and the very detailed descriptions of rooms and locations  a bit difficult to get used to at first. But the wise cracking dialogue and prose soon had me hooked.

'He would go on turning a dollar in one way or another until he ended up in Folsom or a mortuary or a house with a swimming pool on top of a hill.'

'I want to go back to Toledo, where people are nice. I always wanted to live in California, but now that I've seen it , it's a hellish place.'

This is a very good example of the tough guy private eye novel and while it is dated in its attitude to African- Americans and women still well worth the read as it gives an interesting portrait of 1950s California. 

2 Comments:

OpenID maxine said...

I loved all his books and devoured them in my teens (along with Hammett, Chandler, James Hadley Chase, Cornell Woolrich (spelling?), you name it. Unfortunately, I can't remember very much about the details, so it is lovely to read your review here, thank you!

3:55 AM  
Blogger Marta Stephens said...

I thoroughly enjoyed reading your article. I found your blog via a Google Alert based on wording from my novels of The Sam Harper Crime Mystery series. The latest book, "The Devil Can Wait" was released week. Please feel free to stop by my blog, MURDER BY 4 (link below) for the latest review. :)

Marta Stephens
www.martastephens-author.com
http://www.murderby4.blogspot.com/

9:14 AM  

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