Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Ross Macdonald

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.


Anonymous said...

Hi Mr. Gorman,

I just wanted to thank you for the virtual ink on The Archer Files. It's
a collection I'm proud to have been involved with, and appreciate any
press that perpetuates the Millar/Macdonald name.

I just thought I'd point out two things you might wish to edit:

1) "Just as supheroes never outgrow their need for milk"

supheroes = superheroes

2) "My favorite is an imperfect never-before-reprinted piece called
"Wild Goose Chase." There's a sort of gothic frenzy to it that kept me
flipping those pages."

"Wild Goose Chase" has been in every incarnation of the Archer short
story collections since the 1955 Bantam paperback (including Otto
Penzler's 1977 collection, Lew Archer: Private Investigator), and has
appeared in a multitude of anthologies over the years. The Name is
Archer originally contained these 7 tales: "Find The Woman", "Gone
Girl", "The Bearded Lady", "The Suicide", "Guilt-Edged Blonde", "The
Sinister Habit", and "Wild Goose Chase". Otto's collection added
"Midnight Blue" and "Sleeping Dog". Perhaps, you meant one of the
stories that Tom Nolan unearthed during his research?

Many thanks,

Jeff Wong

Anonymous said...

The first Archer I ever read was THE INSTANT ENEMY. I picked it up one sunny Saturday in 1969 (during summer break after my freshman year in college, on a day off from my summer job) at the paperback rack in the G.C. Murphy in the then-thriving town of Montgomery, W.Va., along with THE SOUR LEMON SCORE by Richard Stark and ACT OF FEAR by Michael Collins. The tab for all three paperbacks came to $1.80 plus tax. One line from THE INSTANT ENEMY always stuck with me: "I had time to decide where to shoot him. If I had liked the man, I might have shot to kill. I shot him in the right leg." Even more than Chandler, in my opinion, Macdonald was the master at writing prose that by turns could be beautifully lyrical or brutally hard-edged.

Cap'n Bob said...

Black Lizard has just released a reprint of THE WAY SOME PEOPLE DIE in trade paperback.

DGB said...

I have been known to indulge in a certain immature re-action whenever I get to the end of a mystery that contains a totally unexpected twist at the end--I throw the book across the room. The first time I read "The Chill," in the late '60s, I almost blew a hole in the wall. Just finished "The Ivory Grin" a couple of weeks ago--still reading Macdonals after all these years.

Ed Gorman said...

The Chill is my favorite Ross Macdonald novel. Brilliant.