Strangers in Town: Three Newly Discovered Mysteries Paperback – Jan 2001
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From Publishers Weekly
Macdonald fans will hail Strangers in Town: Three Newly Discovered Mysteries by Ross Macdonald, edited by his biographer, Tom Nolan. The first story, "Death by Water," stars Macdonald's first detective, Joe Rogers, while two novelettes, "Strangers in Town" and "The Anger Man," feature Lew Archer, his longstanding series hero. For collectors there's a cloth edition signed by the editor for $37.
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Ross Macdonald was the author of the finest "detective novels ever written by an American" according to the New York Times. The statement may be arguable, but no serious student of detective fiction would leave Macdonald out of the top five. His Lew Archer novels evolved the shoot-first-ask-questions-later tough guy into a detective who solved his cases by understanding the people, motives, and context of the crime. This collection--edited by Tom Nolan, who also contributes very informative introductions to each story--brings together three previously unpublished, early Macdonald stories. They feature a familial triangle turned deadly; an altruistic detective who tries to keep a young black man from being convicted of murder; and Lew Archer's efforts to help a schizophrenic client. The last is the best, showcasing a mature Macdonald in fine, melancholy form. Highly recommended for any collection frequented by serious detective buffs. Wes Lukowsky
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
STRANGERS IN TOWN is Nolan's remarkable follow-up to that magnificent biography. It features three previously unpublished Macdonald short stories. The stories cast new light on Macdonald, his writings, and the development of his unique talent. Being well-versed in Macdonld's works made it possible for me to spot numerous parallels between the short stories and Macdonald's Lew Archer books.
While I enjoyed reading fresh works by the man I consider the greatest mystery author of all time, my favorite parts of the book were Nolan's lengthy and perceptive introduction to the collection as well as his shorter yet insightful introductions to each story.
STRANGERS IN TOWN is among the best books I have read this year. It provided me with the final inspiration I needed to finish my second mystery novel. Thank you, Tom Nolan.
The title story, "Strangers in Town," is a Lew Archer novelette written in 1950. The piece was never published as MacDonald decided that its basic plot outline could be better utilized as the framework for a novel. Many readers will no doubt recognize here the skeleton of what was to become the 1952 novel, The Ivory Grin. The story begins as Archer is hired by an African-American woman. Her son has been accused, wrongfully she believes, of murdering the family's female boarder. Archer discovers that the victim, the vivacious Lucy Deschamp, is a young lady with a "past." That knowledge places the detective on the wrong side of the mob. The author's social awareness takes center stage in this tale. From his African-American client and the family's Latino lawyer to the shady local doctor and the wealthy syndicate enforcer, the interaction between these individuals from such diverse social, ethnic and economic backgrounds makes for some compelling and provocative reading - all the more so in a genre short story! The seeds of the author's more mature work have clearly been sown here.
Despite their eccentricities, the stories in this compilation all hold up well in their own right and are worthy additions to the MacDonald canon. The real value of these tales, however, is that they foreshadow and place into bold relief the eventual accomplishments of one of the mystery field's true innovators. In ways sometimes dim and inchoate, they offer a gratifying glimpse of the creative process that ultimately gave birth to what the New York Times was to call "the finest detective stories ever written by an American." (The full text of this review was first published in MYSTERY NEWS, April/May 2001).
Death by Water (1945) is a very well written, cogent, straightforward murder mystery...with nothing hardboiled about it. A perplexing death is explained using a certain forensic finding. I was able to spot this critically important clue a mile away because I had read The Blue Hammer just a couple of weeks before. And it so happens that the same forensic finding appears in that 1976 Lew Archer novel as well. (Not to mention the fact that the writers of CSI Miami had latched onto the same gimmick and made it their own in a recent TV episode.)
In any event, for what it is, Death by Water is first rate.
Stangers in Town (1950), in contrast, very much belongs to the hardboiled genre. In it, Lew Archer works to exonerate an African-American youth accused of a brutal murder. Archer's investigation brings him into contact with organized crime members and some other interestingly shady characters. The plot is a bit contrived, but overall, Stangers in Town is an engaging read.
The eventful narrative of The Angry Man (1955) unfolds over just a very few hours time and addresses themes and subject matter Ross Macdonald is famous for having specialized in. Namely, dysfunctional families with long held secrets, seductive females, all consuming jealousy and greed intense enough to kill for. Vintage terrain for both Lew Archer and Ross Macdonald.
Overall, this book rates 4 stars. Worthwhile reading for all Ross Macdonald fans.
That said, this is a must for a Ross MacDonald fan's library.