Lew Archer and (the) Hooks

Halfway home, just above Emerald Bay, I overtook the worst driver in the world.

Ross MacDonald / Gone Girl

 

I’ve always considered Ross MacDonald, known for his series of Lew Archer detective novels, a great writer with a unique, almost psychedelic style. Psychedelic not like Tom Wolfe imagining an LSD trip, but in how open and sensitive he was to the environment and ongoing history (past, present and limited future) of the characters in his stories.

I’ve recently started re-reading some of his books and was a bit surprised that the very early efforts were much poorer than I remembered. But he did improve – vastly – and by the mid-1950’s he was in full bloom as an author.

I might describe some of his best novels as like peeling back the layers of the past like a grave digger finding the bits and pieces of a gruesome jigsaw puzzle. Then putting them together even if he has to use a saw and a hammer.

I started this piece by quoting a sentence from one of MacDonald’s short stories, a sentence I have always considered one of the greatest opening lines ever written. But that’s memory for you; it wasn’t the opening line. It was the first line of the second paragraph.

Well, close enough. Plus it introduces an opening sequence that sucks the reader in like a dark and mysterious and half evil cyclone…kind of a reverse Wizard of Oz situation, where the adventure is devoid of any veneer of innocence.

I’m currently reading The Moving Target. This novel was made into a movie starring Paul Newman. I liked the movie when I first saw it, but not so much on seeing it again years later. Best part of the movie was the opening where Lew (Paul Newman) is hung over and searching for his coffee cup, which he finally finds in his step-open trash can.

Great scene, but trust me, the book is much, much better.

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