You know: in a foolish, undiscriminating way, I've been happy these last few months. I don't know why. I just am. I love my friends; I love my pupils; I love what I read; I -- dammit -- love my thoughts. I love the taste of oranges.
Thornton Wilder in a letter to Gertrude Stein, Aug 14, 1936

Sunday, October 16, 2011


This was my first Lew Archer book, as it was its author's. MacDonald is considered the heir of hard-boiled detective novels after Hammet and Chandler. Perhaps because this one was written in 1949, it seems especially close to its predecessors. Southern California. Wealthy people. Creepy people. Beautiful people. Corruptible people. Losers from the word go. They are all here and they all play their roles.

MacDonald is credited with bringing more psychological depth to the genre. I didn't see a lot of that here but it is his first novel. I admit an innate prejudice against detective fiction. I like crime novels -- Patricia Highsmith, Georges Simenon, James Ellroy, recently Richard Stark. Crime novels can take you in unexpected directions and leave you slack-jawed when they are over. Detectives, whether they are Miss Marple, Richard Marlowe, or Lew Archer, will take some serious beatings but figure things out in the end. (Actually I doubt Miss Marple every took any serious beatings.)

Detectives suffer betrayals, but it's all part of the job. They go home to more cigarettes and rye. (I should have left Miss Marple out of this.)

In a good crime novel, the world shifts under your feet and settles into a place you feared it belonged the whole time.

Paul Newman played Lew Archer, renamed Harper, in the 1966 film version.

1 comment:

  1. I'll bet Miss Marple did like rye and cigarettes and maybe took a hit or two. She was no sissy in that man's world.