I've liked everything I've read so far by MacDonald, and Zebra-Striped Hearse is no exception. What I found different is Archer's travels, be it Mexico, Nevada, and up and down California. In particular, his portrayal of an American colony in Mexico of drunks, artists, and others just hiding out, read true. Same with the surfer kids in their zebra striped hearse. It's the kind of writing that gives you a slice of what the early sixties was like, but in a way that doesn't sound dated, but accurate.
The novel as a whole is moody, its story a dark (and very sad)one of sexual depravity, psychological cruelty, a deliberate red herring or two, and of course, murder(s). To some extent I felt novel had too many characters, and it was hard to keep track of all the motivations, not to mention Archer's frenetic movements between Mexico, California, and Nevada. But with MacDonald you get a master of character creation who possesses excellent descriptive powers. He can create a memorable character, with a history in the space of a paragraph or two. He's amazing. And his scenes can very suggestive, very dark. In one, a little girl looking at a comic book suggests (possible) crimes of a much greater scale. But MacDonald doesn't dwell on it. He leaves you hanging, effectively haunting you for the rest of the book. You never know for sure, but it's that not knowing that shows MacDonald at his best. Within the scope of the novel, it's a small moment, but MacDonald cares about those small moments as he builds a whole.
If there is convolution in Zebra Striped Hearse, it's a small sin blown away by the fine descriptive powers of a master.