Ross Macdonald has
become unfashionable these days. His stories marked a transition point in the
private eye genre, between the classic days of the noir era and the disruption
to the world as we know it which we now remember as the Sixties.
Lew Archer was prescient in his observations about Southern California and its
people, and the sense of flux out of control permeates the 'Harper' films Paul
Newman made as Archer. Two of these stories are early efforts. "Death By
Water" features an Archer-like Joe Rogers, who finds himself involved in a
murder while visiting a house-dick friend. Rogers solves the crime, but the
final twist comes in unravelling its motive, whose altruism will be undone by
California law. It's a real forerunner to the sort of moral tales which Archer
would later guide us through, not least in its references to buried family
problems from the past.
In Town" is another tale where the secrets of the past reflect on the
present, featuring a rather subdued and somewhat wise-cracking Archer.
"The Angry Man" dates from later in Macdonald's career, and is a
fuller effort in all ways. It was later cannibalised into his novel The Doomsters, and Macdonald himself
marked this as the point where Archer became more than just a guy solving
crimes, and became a figure for understanding the mentality of the criminals.
This story has the fatalistic feel of Jim Thompson, but Macdonald was always a
more cerebral prose craftsman than Thompson.
a link between the hothouse guignol of those late-era pulps and the more
analytical efforts of the 60s, this takes some beating. There is also a long
essay about Macdonald's early career by Tom Nolan, which is disappointingly
unanalytical. The introductions to the stories do a better job of placing them
in the context of the Macdonald's career. He's a writer who should always be in