The first Ross Macdonald novel I ever read was The Way Some People Die. He was John Ross Macdonald then, still going back and forth I suppose with John D. MacDonald about the use of names so similar.
I was fifteen, steeped in Gold Medals and Lions and Ace Doubles. By then I'd read a good deal of Hammett and Chandler as well. None of it prepared me for Ross Macdonald.
I was too ignorant to pick up on stylistic differences. What I noticed were the characters. Few of them were new to me as types, most of them in fact were in most of the hardboiled novels I'd read, but Macdonald brought a depth and humanity to them that made me think not of other crime writers but of authors such as Fitzgerald and Hemingway and James T. Farrell and Graham Greene, my idols at the time. This was real no bullshit psychological writing.
Just as superheroes never outgrow their need for milk, I've never outgrown my need for the novels and stories of Ross Macdonald. I share his view of humanity, that amalgam of fascination, disappointment, anger and sorrow that fill his work.
If you want to remind yourself of how good he was even early on, I'd recommend The Archer Files edited by Tom Nolan and published by Crippen and Landru. In addition to being a fine looking collection, it contains all the published Lew Archer short stories plus an intriguing section called "Notes." Macdonald started stories that he planned to someday finish, a way of keeping thoughts alive. Most of these sure would have made superb tales.
Then there's the long introduction by Tom Nolan in which he takes the reader into the work and life of Kenneth Millar a/k/a Ross Macdonald. Nolan wrote the Edgar-nominated biography of Macdonald and this introduction is almost a synthesis of it in its information, insight and elegantly arranged presentation.
Oh, yes--the stories.There are an even dozen and while some are better than others all of them demonstrate why he became so important so quickly, even though his real fame took many years to achieve. My favorite is an imperfect piece called "Wild Goose Chase." There's a sort of gothic frenzy to it that kept me flipping those pages.
This is an essential acquisition for all libraries, home or public.