I was in a St. Louis indie bookstore today and was delighted that one of the other customers was looking for anything by Ross MacDonald. MacDonald, who died in 1983, would probably be proud that his Lew Archer is being re-published and re-discovered by old and new fans alike. The man was a master storyteller and his prose is as striking as when he was writing in his prime in the 1950s.
The Doomsters, originally published in 1958, is no exception. Its lyrical prose should be considered the epitome of character development and imagery. This is probably the definitive Archer book and readers learn more about Lew and what makes him the man he becomes in later novels.
The novel opens with a pounding on the door at the crack of dawn--and takes off from there. An escapee from a mental institution, clad in "the kind of clothes they give you to wear in prison" has landed on Archer's doorstep on the advice of a fellow escapee, Tom Rica, whom Lew had helped years earlier. Carl Hallman wants Lew to investigate the death of his father, a powerful Senator from California. Carl is sure that the attending physician, Dr. Grantland, killed him, but he needs Lew's help to prove it.
Never one to turn down a chance to be nosey, Lew drives Carl to the family estate in the little town of Purissima. There resides Carl's brother Jerry and Jerry's wife Zinnie. Met by a deputy sheriff, Carl runs away from Lew and becomes the subject of an intense manhunt. More bodies start popping up, specifically Jerry's. Then Lew learns that there are some unanswered questions about Carl's wife Mildred, the Senator's death, and the even death of Carl's mother three years before.
Lew has a knack for uncovering buried secrets, and those secrets rise to the top in The Doomsters. Striking, unconventional PI prose and the ability to layer story lines make Ross MacDonald one of the greatest crime writers of the twentieth century.
Armchair Interviews agrees.