The third of the "Big Three"
June 3, 2005 9:05 PM   Subscribe

50 years with Lew Archer A detailed tribute to classic hard-boiled mystery writer Ross Macdonald, including a fascinating interview with Macdonald's biographer. Considered one of "the big three of the American hard-boiled detective novel" (with Hammet and Chandler), Macdonald has unfortunately "slipped to the back shelves." He had a lifelong lover's quarrel with Hollywood and - oh yeah - probably saved Warren Zevon's life back in 1979.
posted by mediareport (9 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If that Boston Globe link makes you register, here's the cached version.
William Marling's hard-boiled detective fiction site, linked previously, is a fantastic resource all-around.
And very tangentially: "It must be lonely being a gay Ross Macdonald fan?"
posted by mediareport at 9:12 PM on June 3, 2005

Dammit. Hammett. I'm in the middle of The Glass Key, too. I'm trying not to give a fuck about obvious misspellings anymore, but that one grated.
posted by mediareport at 9:18 PM on June 3, 2005

Nice tribute. Hurts to see him mentioned in the same paragraph as non-stylists like Kellerman and Rozan, though.
posted by QuietDesperation at 9:32 PM on June 3, 2005

I'm in the middle of a Jim Thompson kick: just finished The Killer Inside Me, and now I'm reading The Getaway. I've never read Macdonald, but I'll take this thread as a recommendation.
posted by goatdog at 10:03 PM on June 3, 2005

"Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. The detective must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor. He talks as the man of his age talks, that is, with rude wit, a lively sense of the grotesque, a disgust for sham, and a contempt for pettiness."
--Raymond Chandler, "The Simple Art of Murder" (essay, first appeared in The Atlantic Monthly November 1945)

This could be a description of Ken Millar. Good words to live by, in any case.
posted by warbaby at 8:06 AM on June 4, 2005

Thanks for this post. He was a wonderful writer, too little appreciated these days.
posted by languagehat at 8:14 AM on June 4, 2005

Yeah, thanks for the post. I loved MacDonald so much, and I was so sad when I had read everything (unemployment + Brooklyn Public Library = lots of reading). Then I discovered Georges Simenon. Different tone, different milieu, same compassion for the infinite ways in which people can fuck up.

Come on everyone, which is your favorite MacDonald? I'd have to say the one with the wildfire--The Underground Man I think it's called.
posted by dame at 9:19 AM on June 4, 2005

I like 1958's The Doomsters, sadly out of print but the first Lew Archer book where Macdonald felt he was getting out from under Chandler's shadow. It's filled with sharp psychology and the Oedipal stuff he'd mine for years afterwards, but has a breakneck pace and Archer getting knocked unconscious by loonies and cops enough times to keep it squarely in the early tradition. Beautifully written, too.
posted by mediareport at 8:42 PM on June 4, 2005

The opening of
"Sleeping Beauty"
still blows me away. The "I flew back from Mazatlan" monlogue where he describes first seeing the oil slick that will be at the heart of the story: "It lay on the blue water ... in a free-form slick that seemed miles wide and many miles long. An offshore oil platform stood up out of its windward end like the metal handle of a dagger that had stabbed the world and made it spill black blood".

It's wonderful; but it shows Archer in his declining years, more introspective than usual (though asking much different questions) and it dealt with environmental issues long before it became trendy (never mind the difficulties of integrating such issues with the traditional HB detective genre). Still, it's not my favorite. I prefer the Archer in his prime ... still unpolished and less mature, tossing off classic lines like: "she looked like a blurred photo." Something like the "Far Side of the Dollar" Archer.

Like a true fan, my favorite is the one I'm currently reading.
posted by RavinDave at 9:00 PM on June 4, 2005 [1 favorite]

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