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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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"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
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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5.0 out of 5 stars Where There's Smoke There's Fire Oct. 11 2001
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 southern California fire season. In my humble opinion, there has never been a finer mystery author, and THE UNDERGROUND MAN is MacDonald's finest book.
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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 considered literature - not just pulp fiction for the lowly masses. They had good reason. The way MacDonal writes, the story reeks of southern California in the 60's, capturing the feel of a Sunday drive through Santa Barbara and along its beaches. It also recognizes that all powerful families have dark histories that sadly repeat themselves over and over. This is the central theme; a constant in Ross MacDonald stories, but best expressed in this one. This mystery novel will not soon leave your memory bank; you will recall it fondly over and over for many years.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Are you too young to appreciate Ross MacDonald Jan. 3 2000
This is my favorite Ross MacDonald book of all. Delighted it is being reprinted. Think I have an original copy. Read it in context of when written, but also Ross is a very good writer. Grow Up you people in the 90's. Or better yet, take me back to a "super" time for crime/detectives.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Don't judge this book out of context Sept. 13 1999
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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