Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Ross Mc vs. John D

Patti Abbott sure does ask interesting questions. Today she wonders about the sometimes vitriolic comparisons between the two writers. This is the response I wrote. And please remember I'm rarely wrong more than 98.9% of the time.

I think Ross Macdonald was the finest writer ever of private eye fiction. He brought literary integrity and psychological depth to the form that has never been equaled. I think John D. was the great populist storyteller. He once said that he wrote folk tales for men who carried their lunches in buckets. While I don't think he had the depth of Ross Mc I think he had a range and storytelling ability that Ross Mc sometimes lacked. Hell I read them both all the time. Hard to beat either one of them if you like to watch masters at work.

15 comments:

David Cranmer said...

You nailed it, Ed. Spot on.

Cullen Gallagher said...

I'd like to spend more time with non-Travis McGee John MacDonald. "Cry Hard Cry Fast" is one of my favorites of his so far. I also have Dead Low Tide sitting on the shelf waiting its turn to be read.

pattinase (abbott) said...

You summed it up beautifully although I'd still like to spend a night on the Busted Flush. Just one.
And my 25 year old self.

Ed Gorman said...

As for company...I'd imagine ole Trav probably has it all over ole Lew. Ole Lew strikes me as a pretty dour dude. And since I sense your twenty-five year old self would loved to be wined and dined...ole Trav'd be your best bet, Patti.

Kenneth Mark Hoover said...

I never liked the fact John D. often denigrated Ross Mc just because Ross used the same surname as John D.

John D also had the nerve to accuse Ross Mc of going to the same well again and again for story ideas. Pot...meet kettle. What nerve.

Matt Paust said...

Didn't realize John D. badmouthed Ross. I've seen critics do it, but nobody with a reputation. I tend to agree with about 98.9% of what Ed says here, but I was hoping now that the Rosses door was opened, someone would sing the praises of one of my favorites, Ross Thomas. It's been awhile since I've read any of the three, sorry to say, but I wonder if I could elude a stoning with the suggestion that Ross Thomas combined the strengths of both the MacDonalds. **ducks, covers head and runs, crouching into the shadows**

Harry said...

I'd have to agree with you Ed, although I had a definite preference for JDM.

billslankard said...

I started rereading the McGee novels a year or so ago, but gave up halfway through. They weren't as good as I remembered, or else they didn't reread well.

I just started rereading the Archer novels, finishing The Moving Target. It's been long enough that I don't remember reading it and, while rough in some spots (Archer gets sapped every other page), the ending was very good. I just picked up The Drowning Pool from the library, and I'll looking forward to reading it. Again.

Fred Blosser said...

The first six Archers, BLUE CITY, and TROUBLE FOLLOWS ME are hardboiled classics. The later Archers have their moments (and I expect the lit'r'y critics hold them in higher esteem), but I tend to agree with something William F. Nolan once said, that the later Archer seems like the earlier Lew's grandfather. Personal opinion, Ross Mc's work has aged more gracefully than John D's.

If memory serves, John D's ire was triggered by the fact that Millar's original byline for the Archer books was John Ross Macdonald. JDM exerted prior claim to "John Macdonald."

Steve Scott said...

JDM "often denigrated" Ross? When? How "often"? I've read a lot about JDM and I'm not aware that he ever had a problem with the writing of Ross Macdonald. It was the use of the name, coming at a time when JDM was trying to establish himself, that he had the problem with. JDM has written that he "liked [Macdonald's] work."

The bottom line is that these are two very different authors who share little more than a surname (one a pen name) and the kind of fiction they are famous for writing. Their styles couldn't be more different.

For a full background on the dispute over the use of the name, see JDM's entry in INWARD JOURNEY: ROSS MACDONALD, edited by Ralph B. Sipper (1984).

Ed Gorman said...

If JDM "denigrated" RMc so did RMc "denigrate" JDM. I think John D had a right to ask RMc to change his name, especially since it was a pseudonym anyway. And they did walk the same street, paperbacks, Manhunt, etc. There was confusion. I know JDM wasn't happy about things but I don't believe he ever took the same kind of shots at RMc that RMc took at JDM. He obviously thought John D was a couple steps up from the worst kind of pulp. I say this with respect for both men but I did feel l sorry for JDM in this matter. My recollection was that some people thought he was being pissy about the matter of protecting his name.

Matt Paust said...

Don't forget the shameless cheap shots Ross Thomas would take at poor Ollie Bleeck, and I don't recall if Bleeck, ever the gentleman, ever retaliated.

OK, I'm outta here...

Frank Loose said...

I recall reading somewhere - perhaps Nolan's excellent biography on RM - that JDM was visiting in Santa Barbara once and actually picked up the phone to call RM to see about meeting him for a drink, then decided not to, thinking he'd be intruding. Now that would have been an interesting get-together.

datrappert said...

Have to choose JDM here. Having read the first 4 or 5 McGee books, but perhaps 20 non-McGee books, which are overall quite superior. I will admit to reading only the first two Lew Archer books, but I found them so derivative of Chandler, that they just didn't hold my interest. RMD just couldn't deliver the memorable prose passages the way Chandler could, not matter how hard he tried. He seemed to be trying to make up for it by having stories that at least made better sense than some of Chandler's, but overall the effect was underwhelming. JDM obviously has his faults--he probabably has the worst view of human nature of any author I have ever read, and even his supposedly sympathetic portrayals of women come across as very "male" and condescending. But at his best, he could write circles around JDM, especially in early books like The Damned, The End of the Night, and Dead Low Tide. (He wrote WAY too much, however.)

Joe said...

Roger Ebert recently re-published an old interview he did with JDM in the 70's: http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/19760728/PEOPLE/607280301
At the end of the article, JDM says he tried to get RMc to admit naming one of his last books "The Blue Hammer" was a bad idea:

"I wrote him [RMc]," [JDM] said. "I said, 'no doubt this is innocence on your part, but people are going to think it's meretricious.' He didn't reply. I must confess I feel a little irritated by that.

"God knows we have enough trouble keeping our identities separate. Thank God the guy writes as well as he does. He could be some real plumber. I don't want to feel victimized, but it comes down to this. I wouldn't do it to him."