The Barbarous Coast Paperback – Dec 4 2007
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“Ross Macdonald writes like a son-of-a-bitch.” —Anthony Boucher“Not since the novels of Nathanael West has the theme of American innocence grinding to a stop at the polluted waters of the Pacific so consistently reverberated through a body of writing.” —Detroit News“Macdonald makes a routine story of ocean-side murder among the rich take on a hard-edged, glistening solidity.” —AudioFile
About the Author
Ross Macdonald's real name was Kenneth Millar. Born near San Francisco in 1915 and raised in Ontario, Millar returned to the U.S. as a young man and published his first novel in 1944. He served as the president of the Mystery Writers of America and was awarded their Grand Master Award as well as the Mystery Writers of Great Britain's Gold Dagger Award. He died in 1983.See all Product Description
Top Customer Reviews
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
In "The Barbarous Coast" PI Lew Archer takes on both the Hollywood establishment and the Mob as a simple assignment of tracking down a missing wife turns into a multiple murder case. The plot is very good, and the characters are excellent. Much of the strength of the story is in MacDonald's depiction of the southern California atmosphere: the wealth, decadence, and underlying fear of those who have made it, the regret and the disillusionment of the those who have almost made it, the sad continuing striving of those who will never make it but who still cling to the dream.
I enjoyed reading "The Barbarous Coast", but I did not find it satisying. None of the book's weaknesses is a deal breaker, but their culumative effect keeps me from giving it a top rating. Examples: The plot seemed unnecessarily conplicated, Archer kept getting beat up too frequently, the Mob connection just didn't fit in well, several cliche scenes.
Archer is one of the classic series in this genre. Its just great. And this book should be read along with the others. However, I would suggest that you not start here due to the fact that it wont cast the very best light on MacDonald and his prowess.
Macdonald's Lew Archer, by contrast, is a much more successful adaptation of Chandler's series detective Phillip Marlowe, a man in an unseemly but necessary profession doing what he has to do while remaining true to his personal code of ethics. The result is a world-weary doggedness, a cynically principled approach to life and a character with some depth.
The Barbarous Coast was Macdonald's sixth Archer novel and 10th novel overall. It shows. Unlike Spillane, Macdonald wrote several standalone novels at the start of his career that helped him hone his craft before embarking on the Archer series. I especially liked Blue City (1947) and The Three Roads (1948), the two he published just before launching Archer with The Moving Target (1949).
Some commentators have criticized the plot and pace of Barbarous Coast and while I can see their point I can also say that for me it made little difference. To me, the great joy of reading MacDonald, like Chandler, is in the characters and the crackling dialogue, as well as the world in which the characters move that both authors do a masterful of creating and describing. I grant Barbarous Coast is not a masterpiece but it is well worth spending the time on if you like hard-boiled mysteries.
Oh, it all starts off interestingly enough. Ross Macdonald's favorite and most famous fictional character, the hardboiled PI Lew Archer is recruited to help a naive young Canadian locate his missing bride. Her name is Hester and she's a native Californian, the daughter of long dead silent film star, Raymond Campbell. As Archer pokes around Hester's last known haunt, an exclusive Malibu country club, he learns of an unsolved murder that took place there just under 2 years before.
So far so good. Unfortunately, the narrative then begins to devolve into a poorly coordinated, multifaceted saga of murder and blackmail that unsuccessfully tries to cover too many bases. Macdonald introduces a number of supporting characters; a greedy and lecherous movie studio owner, his schizophrenic wife, a Las Vegas gangster with homosexual tendencies, a washed up boxer turned actor and Hester's sister Rina, a psychiatric nurse.
Also introduced are Hester's mother and her aforementioned husband, both of whom rather surprisingly get lost in the shuffle.
Further detracting from the book's appeal are Macdonald's, shall we say, less than universally accepted theories of mental illness. Theories he does not hesitate to present as facts on a par with the law of gravity.
Ross Macdonald fans expect his novels to be intricately plotted and many would be disappointed if they were not. But the Barbarous Coast is a disjointed collection of plot threads that ultimately fail to blend together. It appears as though he tried to cram too much material into this relatively short book.
A rare disappointment from an author capable of much better.
However, MacDonald wrote like an absolute dream, his prose is so sharp and witty and brilliant that even a mediocre mystery by this man is a treasure.