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The Underground Man: A Lew Archer Novel [Paperback]

Ross Macdonald
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Nov. 26 1996 Vintage Crime/Black Lizard
As a mysterious fire rages through the hills above a privileged town in Southern California, Archer tracks a missing child who may be the pawn in a marital struggle or the victim of a bizarre kidnapping.  What he uncovers amid the ashes is murder—and a trail of motives as combustible as gasoline.  The Underground Man is a detective novel of merciless suspense and tragic depth, with an unfaltering insight into the moral ambiguities at the heart of California's version of the American dream.

If any writer can be said to have inherited the mantle of Dashiell Hammet and Raymond Chandler, it was Ross Macdonald.  Between the late 1940s and his death in 1983, he gave the American crime novel a psychological depth and moral complexity that his predecessors had only hinted at.  And in the character of Lew Archer, Macdonald redefined the private eye as a roving conscience who walks the treacherous frontier between criminal guilt and human sin.

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Review

"A more serious and complex writer than Chandler and Hammett ever were."- Eudora Welty

"Ross Macdonald is an important American novelist!"- San Francisco Chronicle

"I should like to venture that Ross Macdonald is a better novelist than either... Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler."-  Anthony Boucher, The New York Times Book Review

About the Author

Ross Macdonald's real name was Kenneth Millar.  Born near San Francisco in 1915 and raised in Vancouver, British Columbia, 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 Silver Dagger Award.  He died in 1983.

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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
4.1 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars The best of the best Dec 25 2001
Format:Paperback
The Underground Man was the first Lew Archer novel I had ever read. I was 12 or 13 and was looking for something other than the Stephen King and Michael Crichton potboilers that were so popular at the time . Reading this book was an epiphany. Now, nearly 15 years later, and hundreds of PI novels later, I have discovered nothing that surpasses this series.
The thing I liked about what MacDonald did is he took all the traditional Hammett/Chandler plot points and character traits (later to become tired cliches when grabbed on by dozens of lesser writers) and made them fresh and relevant. All the authors that came after him, from Parker's Spenser to Grafton's Kinsey Millhone (who sometimes resembles a female Lew Archer) owe their livelihoods to MacDonald.
The Underground Man is particularly interesting. In it, the author combined a natural disaster ( a devastating wildfire in the Southern California hills) with the turmoil that has enveloped the family whose members he is investigating. Like most of the later Archer stories, he serves not so much as the investigator of wrongs than an emissary to untangle the complex and poisonous relationships of the characters and try to avert impending tragedy. He is not so much interested in "who did it" as much as finding out what circumstances caused the situation he is now mixed up in.
Please disregard the previous negative reviews of this book. It doesn't sound to me like they even read the bookvery carefully. They totally misinterpreted the character. Lew Archer is not the stereotypical hardened tough guy of zillions of pulp paperbacks. He is actually a sensitive softie, perhaps too soft for his own good on occasion ("down these mean streets this weeping man must go" as one wag put it).
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By A Customer
Format:Paperback
I hate to piggyback on another reader's review but after reading Shadowskc's review, I just had to comment on this book, rather than remain just another passive reader. I too only read part of the book and found it so lacking I could not finish it. I read on the average of two books per week, so a book has to be really bad when I will not finsh reading it. The plot had some good beginnings but the characters were so trite and insipid they quickly became offensive. I am not a female chauvinist by any stretch of the imagination, but the women in this book were depicted as not being capable of a higher status than being doormats for the males in the book and unable to make any decisions without male intervention. I realize this author wrote back in the dark ages, but I have a feeling that even if he wrote during the 90's, the main character, Mr. Private Investigator, would be a gay-bashing, self-proclaimed stud, sporting a buzz haircut and camouflage tee shirt. I am sure there are enough Neanderthals out there to support this book's reprinting but I for one feel mislead by the synopsis and regret having purchased the book. If this book is consider to be a "classic" of some kind, I would think it could best be used as mandatory reading in a creative writing class as the "classic" example of how NOT to write, how to build characters not of this planet, how to destroy a potentially good plot and in the process, offend anyone with an IQ above room temperature. If you really like good suspense novels, try Ridley Pearson. He is an excellent writer who will keep you on the edge of your chair rather than on the edge of a coma as does MacDonald. Or for real "classic" character development, try Patrick McGrath.
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Format:Paperback
I would not recommend anyone buy this book, even if they find it at a garage sale for a dime. The plot is fine but the characters are unbeliveable. After 60 pages I finally quit reading and gave up. At the end of 60 pages, this bozo of a PI had uncovered a murder and a kidnapping and had not yet called the police in on the case. You have got to be kidding me. I left him on a boat being held at gun point. Good place for him. There was no timeframe in the book I could find. No dates, no current events discussed. I would surmise it was in the 50's or 60's considering the way women were portrayed at wimpie little braindeads. And of course, the male detective was just ever soooo coool all the time. Stay away from this work of art, unless you like those banal, brainless and boring gothic love stories. You know the type, with the big breasted woman on the front, looking oh so distressed in front of a gothic mansion.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Don't judge this book out of context Sept. 13 1999
Format:Paperback
I just happened upon this book, and I'm now a confirmed Ross Macdonald fan!
I am amazed by reviewers that revile a book written over 20 years ago because it does not match the mores and attitudes of the 1990s.
One of the charms of this book is that it beautifully captures Southern California in the 60s. I was there, guys, and women did not act or dress the way they do now. Don't judge this book out of the context of its era. Instead of being irritated because the book does not portray today's world, enjoy the ride into the past!
As for Macdonald's writing, it was masterful! With a few well chosen phrases, he sets the stage and immerses you in his world. I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and look forward to reading more.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Where There's Smoke There's Fire
THE UNDERGROUND MAN is my favorite Ross MacDonald novel. Lew Archer reaches his highest stage of development in this novel as he investigates a multigenerational mystery amid the... Read more
Published on Oct. 11 2001 by Mystery Cat
5.0 out of 5 stars The Mystery Novel That Raised Detective Novels to Literature
In the winter of 1972, the New York Review of Books featured this novel on its cover and proclaimed the it had won the editors over: From then on, detective mysteries would be... Read more
Published on Nov. 18 2000 by James K. Sterrett
4.0 out of 5 stars Are you too young to appreciate Ross MacDonald
This is my favorite Ross MacDonald book of all. Delighted it is being reprinted. Think I have an original copy. Read more
Published on Jan. 3 2000 by E. Evans
5.0 out of 5 stars A clean and well ordred detective novel
MacDonald is a master of the detective novel. His hard-boiled narrator Lew Archer talks the reader through a confusing tangle of relationships in a southern California setting. Read more
Published on July 15 1999
5.0 out of 5 stars One of MacDonald's best - My favorite Archer novel
I'm a big fan of Ross Macdonald's Lew Archer novels, and this one's my favorite. Perhaps it's something about the way he perfectly captures Southern California during a brush-fire... Read more
Published on Jan. 7 1999
5.0 out of 5 stars Intensely involving, with themes that transcend the genre
Combines the hard-boiled cynicism of old-school noir writers like Dashiell Hammett with an emerging concern about the modern age; features an aging Lew Archer who is more visibly... Read more
Published on Aug. 23 1998
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