The detective stories of Ross Macdonald

Bacevich-Lane-RossMacDonald-rgb-838x814Andrew J. Bacevich at The Baffler:

For its first anthology drawn from the Macdonald oeuvre, the Library of America has repackaged four Lew Archer tales written during this period of Millar’s life: The Way Some People Die (1951); The Barbarous Coast (1956); The Doomsters (1958); and The Galton Case (1959). All are set in California, and all adhere to an identifiable formula. All revolve around Archer’s efforts to find a missing person. No sooner does the detective initiate his inquiries than he bumps into several other seemingly unrelated mysteries. Over the course of thirty-or-so compact chapters, while enduring or committing a certain amount of mayhem, Archer discovers that everything connects: rather than several parallel mysteries, there is but one. Crucially, that one mystery has its point of origin in parental failure and the ruinous consequences of depriving children of the care and protection they deserve.

Archer himself remains an elusive figure, with only sketchy biographical details emerging from the first-person narrative. We learn that he grew up in Oakland, where he clashed with a violent father and got into his fair share of trouble. “I’d been a street boy in my time, gang-fighter, thief, pool-room lawyer,” he recalls in a rare moment of reflection. “It was a fact that I didn’t like to remember.” During the war, Archer served as an intelligence officer. He was once a cop in Long Beach, but quit or was fired because he couldn’t stomach the rampant corruption. Now he lives alone in a five-room bungalow located somewhere between Hollywood and downtown Los Angeles. “The house and the mortgage on it were mementos of my one and only marriage,” a failure that still gnaws.

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