Category Archives: Macdonald Ross

Find a Victim by Ross Macdonald

Longstanding readers of this blog may recall my intention to work through Ross Macdonald’s hardboiled novels – more specifically the books featuring his Los Angeles-based private detective, Lew Archer. Find a Victim is number five in the series – not the pick of the bunch by any stretch of the imagination, but an entertaining read nonetheless. (Here are the links to my reviews of the earlier books in the series, The Drowning Pool [#2], The Way Some People Die [#3] and The Ivory Grin [#4] – all can be read as standalone works.) While it may sound a little odd, this was a comfort read for me. I know what I’m going to get with a Lew Archer novel: something familiar yet satisfying with enough twists and turns to maintain my interest. And that was broadly the case here – it turned out to be just what I needed to read after the rather episodic nature of The Adventures of Sindbad.

So, back to Find a Victim. As the book opens, Archer is driving from Los Angeles to Sacramento when he is flagged down by a blood-stained man who has been shot and left to die in a ditch near a deserted stretch of the highway. With no sign of life for miles, Archer puts the severely wounded man in the back of his car and sets off to find help in the nearest town, a place called Las Cruces. On his arrival at a motel on the outskirts of town, Archer arranges for an ambulance to take the injured man to hospital – an action which turns out to be too late as the man dies before the medics can save him. Consequently, Archer must hang around to assist the authorities with their enquiries into the murder, a development that piques the detective’s interest especially once he starts to get the measure of the neighbourhood and its rather shady inhabitants.

La Cruces in the sort of small town where everybody is either related to or connected with everybody else. Archer encounters open hostility from the off: the motel owner is none too pleased with Archer for turning up with a dying man in his car; the local Sheriff seems defensive and mistrustful of him, especially once he realises that he’s dealing with a private eye; even the dead man’s boss, a local big-shot named Meyer, seems to have something to hide. (It turns out that the dead man, Tony Aquista, was driving a lorry containing a large consignment of bonded bourbon when he was shot. The truck in question is now missing, probably hijacked during the shooting – another crime for the authorities to follow up as soon as poss, especially given the nature of the cargo.) All is not well with the women in the town either. Kate Kerrigan, the motel owner’s wife, is clearly trapped in an abusive and loveless marriage, a point that Archer deduces from the word go. Then there is the question of Meyer’s daughter, Anne, who manages Kerrigan’s motel – she has been missing for the past week after failing to show up at work. As a consequence, Archer feels compelled to get involved in the case, whether the locals want him to or not.

“What can I do for you, Mr. Archer?” His grooved, stubborn mouth denied his willingness to do anything for anybody.

I told him I had stumbled into the case and wanted to stay in it. I didn’t tell him why. I didn’t know exactly why, though Kate Kerrigan had something to do with it. And perhaps the dark boy’s death had become a symbol of the senseless violence I had seen and heard about in the valley towns. Here was my chance to get to the bottom of it. (p. 38)

What follows is a sequence of events that leads Archer deeper and deeper into a complex web of vice, one that includes additional murders, robberies, corruption, adultery and sexual abuse – interestingly, family conflicts and double-dealings are themes that run through a number of these novels.

In Archer, Ross Macdonald has created a detective with a conscience, a fundamentally decent man who doggedly pursues the truth, even when he knows it will lead to some dangerous encounters along the way. As in the previous novels, Archer gets beaten up and thrown around by those who are aiming to protect their own interests, and yet he keeps on coming back for more. Moreover, his conviction in getting to the heart of the matter is thorough and unrelenting. When the District Attorney tries to pin the crimes on the ‘obvious’ suspect, Archer refuses to accept the convenient option; he follows his instincts, refusing to dismiss any nagging doubts in the process. By so doing, it is clear that he will discover the true perpetrators of the crimes in question, even if the authorities seem less than willing to listen to him.

As I mentioned a little earlier, this isn’t the strongest of the early Lew Archer novels; some of the characters feel a little thin and clichéd. In particular, it lacks a distinctive female figure, someone like Galatea from The Way Some People Die or the vulnerable and damaged Maude Slocum from The Drowning Pool. Nevertheless, there are some nice touches here and there, like this description of the motel owner, Don Kerrigan.

He came back toward me, running his fingers lovingly through his hair. It was clipped in a crew cut, much too short for his age. I guessed that he was one of those middle-aging men who couldn’t face the fact that their youth was over. It gave him an unreal surface, under which a current of cruelty flickered. (p. 17)

One of the most enjoyable aspects of these Lew Archer novels is Macdonald’s ability to evoke a strong sense of place. From the seedy bars and clubs of small towns like Las Cruces to the barren terrain of the Californian desert to the mountains near the border with Nevada, it’s all here.

I looked back to the south and then to the north. No cars, no houses, no anything. I had passed one clot of traffic somewhere north of Bakersfield and failed to catch another. It was one of those lulls in time when you can hear your heart ticking your life away, and nothing else. The sun had fallen behind the coastal range, and the valley was filling with twilight. A flight of blackbirds crossed the sky like visible wind, blowing and whiplashing. (p. 3)

All in all, this is probably a book for Archer completists. If on the other hand you’re looking to try one of the early novels just to get a sense of Macdonald’s style, then I would recommend either The Drowning Pool or The Way Some People Die, both of which are excellent reads. Finally, I must give a shout-out to Max at Pechorin’s Journal who persuaded me to read these novels in the first place. Here’s a link to his excellent review of #1 in the series, The Moving Target.

Find a Victim is published by Vintage Crime/Black Lizard; personal copy.

The Ivory Grin by Ross Macdonald

The Ivory Grin (1952) is the fourth book in Ross Macdonald’s series featuring the Los Angeles-based private eye, Lew Archer. I’ve been trying to read them in order, so here are links to my reviews of the second and third novels in the series, The Drowning Pool and The Way Some People Die, both of which I would wholeheartedly recommend – they can be read as standalone works.

IMG_2833

Back to The Ivory Grin. As the story begins, Archer receives a visit in his office from a rather strange, mannish-looking woman named Una. Here’s how the novel opens – I was hooked from the get-go:

I found her waiting at the door of my office. She was a stocky woman of less than medium height, wearing a blue slack suit over a blue turtleneck sweater, and a blue mink stole that failed to soften her outlines. Her face was squarish and deeply tanned, its boyish quality confirmed by dark hair cut short at the nape. She wasn’t the type you’d expect to be up and about at eight thirty in the morning, unless she’d been up all night.

As I unlocked the door she stood back and looked up at me with the air of an early bird surveying an outsize worm. (pg. 3)

Una claims she is looking for a former employee – a young ‘coloured’ maid named Lucy – who has disappeared along with a pair of ruby earrings and a gold necklace. At first, Archer proposes that this is a matter for the police; Una, however, doesn’t want them involved, keen as she is to talk to the girl to see what she’s up to. Archer is none too keen on Una and remains rather sceptical about her stated motivations for wanting to find Lucy. That said, curiosity gets the better of him and he agrees to do a little surveillance, at least in the short term. According to Una, Lucy has been seen at a restaurant in Bella City, so Archer heads off to find the girl to monitor her movements for a while.

Archer finds Lucy and follows her for most of the afternoon, the trail taking him from the bungalow where she’s been renting a room to a seedy motel in the same area. When she hears of Lucy’s whereabouts, Una decides to pay the girl a visit at the motel, giving Archer instructions to resume his surveillance once she has left. As Archer continues to follow Lucy, the journey takes him to the office of a certain Dr Benning, whom the girl consults before heading to the railway station. Along the way, Archer realises that there is someone else on Lucy’s trail, another private eye named Max Heiss, who tries, rather unsuccessfully, to persuade our detective to collaborate on the case. In the meantime, Lucy’s boyfriend, Alex, pulls up to the station in his car, picks up the girl and drives off, losing Archer in the process. When he returns to the Mountview Motel later that afternoon, Archer discovers that Lucy has been murdered, her throat cut from ear to ear.

At this point, we meet one of my favourite characters in the novel, the world-weary police chief, Lieutenant Brake. Here he is, talking to Archer at the scene of Lucy’s murder, a passage that illustrates Macdonald’s skill with dialogue.

“Who hired you?

“I don’t have to answer that.”

“You weren’t hired to kill her, by any chance?”

“You’ll have to do better than that, if you want any co-operation from me.”

“Who said I wanted any co-operation from you? Who hired you?”

“You get tough very quickly, lieutenant. I could have blown when I found her, instead of sticking around to give you the benefit of my experience.”

“Can the spiel.” He didn’t needle easily. “Who hired you? And for God’s sake don’t give me the one about you got your client’s interests to protect. I got a whole city to protect.”

We faced each other across the drying moat of blood. He was a rough small-city cop, neither suave nor persuasive, with an ego encysted in scar-tissue. I was tempted to needle him again, to demonstrate to these country cousins how a boy from the big city could be hard in a polished way. But my heart wasn’t in the work. I felt less loyalty to my client than to the dead girl on the floor, and I compromised. (pg. 53)

Alongside this first strand, a second one starts to open. When Archer finds Lucy’s body in the motel room, he also discovers a newspaper clipping in her purse – namely, an article advertising a $5,000 reward for information on the whereabouts of a young socialite called Charles Singleton. Some two weeks earlier, around the same time as Lucy’s disappearance from Una’s employ, Singleton had also vanished (he was last seen in the public rooms of a local hotel). As a rather reluctant heir to the family business, Singleton had been trying to break away from his wealthy mother and her money for years – ideally, he wanted to create a life of his own. So, following the discovery of the clipping, Archer heads off to Arroyo Beach to visit Mrs Singleton in her home. Once there, he is hired by the lady’s young companion, Sylvia Treen, with the aim of finding Charles, hopefully still alive.

The two cases are of course connected, but I’m reluctant to reveal how – let’s just say that they intersect in unexpected and complex ways. Lieutenant Brake is convinced that Lucy’s boyfriend, Alex, is responsible for his girlfriend’s death, especially when the murder weapon turns out to be the boy’s knife. Archer, however, isn’t buying this, especially once the details surrounding the Singleton case start to emerge.

I had been trying to decide all morning whether to give Brake everything I knew. I decided not to. The frayed ends of several lives, Singleton’s and his blonde’s, Lucy’s, and Una’s, were braided into the case. The pattern I was picking out strand by strand was too complicated to be explained in the language of physical evidence. Brake’s understanding was an evidence box holding the kinds of facts that could be hammered through the skulls of a back-country jury. It wasn’t a back-country case. (pg. 148)

The Ivory Grin is a story of fear, desire and the lure of money (there are links to mobsters and collection rackets rumbling away in the background). It’s another very fine entrant in Lew Archer series. The plot is tight yet complex enough to keep the reader guessing; the lead characters are intriguing and just a little different to the usual types one tends to find in this genre. One of the highlights is the interplay between Archer and Lieutenant Brake, the police chief who’s been dealing with guys and girls from the wrong side of the tracks for nigh on thirty years. Brake is weary and frustrated, tired of ‘trying to fit human truth into the square-cut legal patterns handed down for his use by legislators and judges.’

Another high point is Lew Archer himself, a detective I’m growing to love more and more with every novel in the series. On the whole, Archer treats people with respect. He is a good judge of character, keen to observe and scrutinise wherever possible, but compassionate too. Archer’s treatment of the black characters is very sympathetic; he is on the side of decent people, irrespective of their colour, race and gender. There are some very nice touches with some of the minor characters too, most notably an elderly next-door neighbour who proves useful to Archer in his surveillance of Lucy, and a homely milliner who lives with her cat. Macdonald captures their personalities with just the right amount of colour.

The novel is very strong on the sense of place and period. Small-town America in the 1950s is portrayed in vivid detail, a community divided into ‘lighter and darker hemispheres’ by the highway that runs through it. Archer finds himself in the bottom half, a run-down place packed with laundries, warehouses, and dilapidated houses.

Main Street was loud and shiny with noon traffic moving bumper to bumper. I turned left on East Hidalgo Street and found a parking space in the first block. Housewives black, brown, and sallow were hugging parcels and pushing shopping carts on the sidewalk. Above them a ramshackle house, with paired front windows like eyes demented by earthquake memories, advertised Rooms for Transients on one side, Palm Reading on the other. A couple of Mexican children, boy and girl, strolled by hand in hand in a timeless noon on their way to an early marriage. (pg 12)

Alongside this picture of the small-scale environment, Macdonald’s descriptions of the Californian landscape are as evocative as ever. I’ll finish with a final quote on the scenery surrounding Bella City – Archer is driving there in search of Lucy.

From the top of the grade I could see the mountains on the other side of the valley, leaning like granite slabs against the blue tile sky. Below me the road meandered among brown September hills spattered with the ink-blot shadows of oaks. Between these hills and the further mountains the valley floor was covered with orchards like vivid green chenille, brown corduroy ploughed fields, the thrifty patchwork of truck gardens. Bella City stood among them, a sprawling dusty town miniatured and tidied by clear space. I drove down into it. (pg 11)

The Ivory Grin is published by Vintage Books – Vintage Crime/Black Lizard

The Way Some People Die by Ross Macdonald

Last year, The Drowning Pool, the second book in Ross Macdonald’s ‘Lew Archer’ series of hardboiled detective novels, rescued me from a brief reading slump. Next up then is number three in the series, The Way Some People Die, which I’d picked up a couple of years ago following Max’s excellent review.

IMG_2112

As the novel opens, Lew Archer, a private investigator working the suburbs of Southern California, is called to the Santa Monica home of worried mother, Mrs. Samuel Lawrence. Her daughter, Galatea (‘Galley’) Lawrence, a nurse at Pacific Point hospital, has been missing without a trace for a couple of months. Prior to her disappearance, Galley was nursing a guy named Speed, who had been shot in the stomach in suspicious circumstances. To add to the intrigue, Galley was last seen moving out of her apartment in Pacific Point accompanied by an unknown man of a sinister nature. Consequently, Mrs Lawrence is worried that her daughter, a girl who attracts men like bees to a honey pot, has got herself mixed up in some kind of trouble.

Archer isn’t overly concerned though; girls skip off with guys all the time. Nevertheless, he agrees to do a bit of rooting around. One look Galley’s photograph swings it. ‘She was a girl you saw once and never forgot,’ a girl with bold and passionate looks, ‘curled lips, black eyes and clean angry bones.’

As he goes about his business, Archer discovers that Galley appears to have disappeared with a small-time hoodlum called Joey Tarantine. Joey and his brother Mario are connected to a bigger fish, a powerful gangster named Dowser, and it’s not long before Archer find himself face-to-face with this predator. Dowser is a thoroughly nasty piece of work, a man whose main methods of communication are money and violence (not necessarily in that order). Even though he despises Dowser and his type, Archer knows he will have to deal with him to uncover the mystery surrounding Galley’s disappearance.

I didn’t want Dowser’s money, but I had to ask him for it. The giving and receiving of money, its demand and its refusal, were Dowser’s basic form of communication with other people. That and the threat, the blow, the infliction of fear and pain. (pg. 41)

Max’s review includes a great analysis of Dowser (do read it). Macdonald has a keen eye for characterisation – it’s one of the reasons why this novel is so satisfying. Dowser is a little lacking in the height department, a stocky man with a body shaped like a cube. He is the embodiment of a mobster suffering from ‘short man syndrome,’ a power-crazy man driven by greed and insecurity. This next quote captures it nicely:

I sat down across the table from Dowser and looked him over. He took a few strutting paces on the patio tiles, his arms folded across his chest. With his swollen body wrapped in a white beach robe, he reminded me a little of a Roman emperor sawed off and hammered down. It was strange that men like Dowser could gain the power they had. No doubt they got the power because they wanted it so badly, and were willing to take any responsibility, run any risk, for the sake of seizing power and holding on. They would bribe public officials, kill off rivals, peddle women and drugs; and they were somehow tolerated because they did these things for money and success, not for the things themselves. (pg. 203)

I don’t want to say too much about the plot, but it’s deliciously twisty and turny. There are bluffs and double-crosses, murders and bloodshed, drugs and dollars. It’s a proper mesh of vice, a world populated by villains with fat rubber faces, and Galley can be found right in the middle of it.

Rather than dwell on the plot, I’d like to mention a few of the other things I enjoyed about this book. As you might expect, this being a gumshoe detective novel, the dialogue is sharp and moody. Here’s a good example. Archer is following up on a lead; he goes to see Jane Starr Hammond, an acquaintance of Keith Dalling’s (a faded actor, another man wrapped up with Galley). The scene is vintage hardboiled:

“I’m looking for a woman named Galley Lawrence. Mrs. Joseph Tarantine. Do you know her?”

A shadow crossed her face. Her hardening blue gaze reminded me that I hadn’t shaved or changed my shirt for over twenty-four hours. “I think I’ve heard the name. Are you a detective?”

I admitted that I was.

“You should shave more often; it puts people off. What has this Mrs. Tarantine been up to?”

“I’m trying to find out. What did she used to be up to?”

“I really don’t know Mrs. Tarantine. She lives in the same apartment building as a friend of mine. I’ve seen her once or twice, I think, that’s all.”

“Under what conditions?”

“Normal conditions. She dropped into my friend’s apartment for a cocktail one afternoon when I was there. I didn’t like her, if that’s what you mean. Her appeal is to the opposite sex. Frank sexuality is her forte. If I wanted to be catty I’d call it blatant.” Her forte was the cutting word. (pg. 69)

I also love the way Macdonald evokes a strong sense of place, the dimly-lit city streets and dark underbelly of the California suburbs. The trail takes Archer from Pacific Point to Palm Springs to San Francisco. The territory is dark and atmospheric.

I switched on my headlights as I wheeled out of the parking lot. The gray dusk in the air was almost tangible. Under its film the city lay distinct but dimensionless, as transient as a cloud. The stores and theaters and office buildings had lost their daytime perspectives with the sun, and were waiting for night to give them bulk and meaning. (pg. 30)

And lastly, but by no means least, there’s Lew Archer himself. Macdonald has created a wonderful character in Archer, one the reader can invest in and care for. He is world-weary but also humane and compassionate. He can see Mrs. Lawrence is down on her luck as soon as he arrives at her home.

The house didn’t look as if it had money in it, or ever would have again. I went in anyway, because I’d liked the woman’s voice on the telephone. (pg. 3)

That’s Lew Archer in a nutshell. He feels a sense of despair for some of the lost and wayward souls he encounters as he goes about his business, guys who have drifted into a life of crime because they don’t know what else to do with their lives. Boys like Ronnie, a twenty-year-old delinquent, caught up in the drugs racket:

There was really nothing to be done about Ronnie, at least that I could do. 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. There were thousands like him in my ten-thousand-square-mile beat: boys who had lost their futures, their parents and themselves in the shallow jerry-built streets of the coastal cities; boys with hot-rod bowels, comic-book imaginations, daring that grew up too late for one war, too early for another. (pg. 135)

The Way Some People Die is a terrific hardboiled novel, probably my favourite of the three Lew Archer books I’ve read so far. It’s nicely paced, and the absorbing narrative keeps the reader guessing right up to the very end. The denouement, when it comes, is thoroughly satisfying. If, like me, you enjoy the likes of Chandler and Hammett, Ross Macdonald is worthy of your time – he’s one of the best.

The Way Some People Die is published by Vintage Crime / Black Lizard. Source: personal copy.

The Drowning Pool by Ross Macdonald (review)

A few weeks ago I hit a bit of a reading slump; a couple of disappointments, one or two abandoned books and a terrible migraine left me craving something familiar and satisfying. Around the same, a conversation with Max (Pechorin’s Journal) reminded me of the brilliance of Ross Macdonald. So I decided to reread The Drowning Pool (which I’d read pre-blog) and write about it here. The Drowning Pool is the second in Macdonald’s series of hardboiled novels featuring private investigator Lew Archer. I haven’t read The Moving Target, the first in the series, but Max has reviewed it along with The Drowning Pool, and as ever his reviews are well worth a few minutes of your time.

IMG_1772

Rereading the opening paragraph of The Drowning Pool felt like curling up with a favourite glass of wine. It all came flooding back, and I knew I was in safe hands:

If you didn’t look at her face she was less than thirty, quick-bodied and slim as a girl. Her clothing drew attention to the fact: a tailored sharkskin suit and high heels that tensed her nylon-shadowed calves. But there was a pull of worry around her eyes and drawing at her mouth. The eyes were deep blue, with a sort of double vision. They saw you clearly, took you in completely, and at the same time looked beyond you. They had years to look back on, and more things to see in the years than a girl’s eyes had. About thirty-five, I thought, and still in the running. (pg. 1, Penguin Classics)

As the novel opens, Archer (our narrator) receives a visit from a visibly hesitant and frightened Maude Slocum. I love Macdonald’s description of Maude’s eyes in the passage above, the way her eyes hint at her troubled past; the things they’ve seen, not all of them good.

Maude is in possession of a poison pen letter intended for her husband, James, alleging her involvement in ‘amorous activities.’ Maude, clearly worried about the possible arrival of further letters, would like Archer to investigate but seems reluctant to reveal any details as to who might have sent this one. Initially, Archer is exasperated by the prospect of working in a vacuum with little to go on, but he agrees albeit reluctantly to take the case. It’s only as Maude is leaving his office that he succumbs, and we start to see a more sympathetic, compassionate side to Archer’s character. It’s a side I like very much indeed:

She stood up and I followed her to the door. I noticed for the first time that the back of the handsome suit was sun-faded. There was a faint line around the bottom of the skirt where the hem had been changed. I felt sorry for the woman, and I liked her pretty well. (pg. 9)

As Archer sets about his business by following James Slocum, he encounters various members of the family and their associates. There’s the Slocums’ somewhat troubled fifteen-year-old daughter, Cathy, who seems to be involved with Reavis, the family’s chauffer. The Slocums’ marriage is clearly strained, and there’s a feeling that James is attracted to the company of Mr Marvell, author of a play being staged by the local theatre group. We are also introduced to Maude Slocum’s mother-in-law, owner of the Slocum residence which happens to be worth a cool couple of million due to the oil residing beneath its grounds. The mother-in-law has, however, refused to sell even an acre of the property, leaving James and Maude highly dependent on her hospitality and a rather meagre allowance. There are one or two other key players in the story, but I’ll leave you to discover them for yourself should you read the book.

It’s not long before Archer finds himself embroiled in something more complex than an investigation into a poison pen letter. In the midst of a family gathering, the mother-in-law’s body is discovered in the swimming pool. Anyone could be a potential suspect, even Archer as he was the last person to talk to the woman before she died. The police quickly rule Archer out of their formal investigations, but he stays involved out of a desire to uncover the truth. As Max highlighted in his review, Archer is interested in truth, ‘the truth of particular things. Who did what when why. Especially why.’ (pg. 163)

That’s about as much as I’m willing to reveal about the plot. Save to say it’s well paced, and when the resolution comes, it illuminates certain scenes and interactions in the earlier sections of the book. Moreover, this plot feels somewhat less convoluted, more plausible than some of Raymond Chandler’s. As I mentioned in my review of Farewell, My Lovely, what I love about Chandler is his sharp dialogue, attitude and mood. His novels are powered by his irresistible prose style, and the storylines seem secondary to these stylistic aspects.

Returning to The Drowning Pool, what I admire about this one falls into three main areas. Firstly there’s the characterisation. Lew Archer possesses many of the typical traits of a gumshoe. He’s divorced and has an eye for a pretty woman; he likes a drink or two, and there’s a world-weary aspect to his character. But there’s something very endearing about Archer, too. I’ve already touched on his sympathetic and compassionate side, and here we see an intuitive side as he senses the damage and darkness in Maude’s past:

Her insecurity went further back than the letter she had given me. Some guilt or fear was drawing her backward steadily, so that she had to enthuse and emote and be admired in order to stay in the same place. (pgs. 37-38)

And it isn’t just Lew Archer’s persona that pulled me into this novel. Maude’s character is wonderfully realised; Macdonald seems to have a talent for painting lost or damaged individuals, people who have experienced sadness or loss in their lives. And like Chandler, he can convey a clear image of a character – along with a sense of their intentions – in two or three sentences:

A man in a striped linen suit and a washable linen hat was squatting on the pier near the top of the gangway. It was Melliotes. He straightened up, moved quickly to bar my way. He was built like a grand piano, low and wide, but his movements were light as a dancer’s. Black eyes peered brightly from the gargoyle face. (pg. 201)

Secondly, I love the way Macdonald evokes a sense of California, a place in which money and corruption live side by side. His descriptions are so vivid it’s almost as if the Californian landscape is a character in its own right. Max’s review contains a couple of fantastic quotes on the sprawling and potentially toxic spread of capitalism, its effects on the Californian environment, and we can sense the futility of it all:

A quiet town in a sunny valley had hit the jackpot hard, and didn’t know what to do with itself at all. (pg. 25)

Macdonald also uses imagery connected with the landscape and water (with a nod to the novel’s title) to reflect the deception and hurt lurking beneath the alluring surface of his characters’ world. The fiery red sunset spells danger ahead and Archer’s all set to get caught in the middle of it:

The water in the pool was so still it seemed solid, a polished surface reflecting the trees, the distant mountains and the sky. I looked up at the sky to the west, where the sun had dipped behind the mountains. The clouds were writhing with red fire, as if the sun had plunged in the invisible sea and set it flaming. Only the mountains stood out dark and firm against the conflagration of the sky. (pg. 44)

Finally, this wouldn’t be a satisfying hardboiled novel without a sprinkling of one-liners (or in some cases, two-liners). Here are a few that illustrate Archer’s tone:

She wasn’t too much of a lady to arrange herself appealingly in the chair, and dramatize the plea. There was a chance that she wasn’t a lady at all. (pg. 7)

A police car in that company seemed as out of place as a Sherman tank at a horse show. (pg. 45)

She turned and looked at me – the kind of look that made me wish I was younger and handsomer and worth a million, and assured me that I wasn’t. (pg.101)

The happy endings and the biggest oranges were the ones that California saved for export. (pg. 233)

Macdonald has created a nuanced investigator in Lew Archer, one that the reader can invest in and care for. I’m looking forward to seeing how his character develops over the course of the series as I’ve decided to carry on reading them in order. I’ll just have to forget that I read The Galton Case (mid-period Archer) last year and erase it from my mind. In the meantime, I can thoroughly recommend The Drowning Pool; just as satisfying, if not more so, the second time around.

The Drowning Pool is published in the UK by Penguin Modern Classics. Source: personal copy.