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The Zebra-Striped Hearse [Audio Cassette]

4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)

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4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
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4.0 out of 5 stars One of his best Dec 30 2003
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.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Only in California... June 11 2003
Yeah, only in California are you likely to see a zebra striped hearse full of surfing teens. Although one of the important clues comes from the hearse, it doesn't really play that important a part in the story, but it's a symbol of the California lifestyle, especially the lifestyle of the teens & young adults. And this symbol has a bearing on the character especially of the young woman whose boy friend and potential husband Lew Archer is hired to investigate.
Of course, you know that what appears to be a simple case for Archer is going to develop into a complicated skein of emotions and events including murder. You can also guess that there will be tragic overtones in the matter.
Ross MacDonald is deservedly recognized as one of the elite of the hard boiled school. While there are resembances to Hammett, Chandler and even Parker to an extent, he is unique. While he presents you with a puzzle, he also makes you care for his characters. He may have you disliking and distrusting some of the characters such as the father and the boy friend in this book, and then have you caring in one way or another for them.
If you haven't discovered Ross MacDonald yet, it's time you did. And if you have, you don't even need to be reading this review. (Although I'm glad you are)
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3.0 out of 5 stars Routine Hard-Boiled Aug. 18 2002
By A. Ross
Book number 11 in the 18-volume Lew Archer series is the first of MacDonald's books I've read. Published forty years prior to my reading, it's aged fairly well as a highly convoluted Chalderesque hard-boiled tale. The tough and terse Archer is hired by an unpleasant rich man to investigate the background of his daughter's fiancee. This is the catalyst for an investigation which roams from San Francisco, to LA, to Lake Tahoe, to Reno and Mexico, ultimately involving multiple murders.
I have to say that I didn't find Archer an especially entrancing character. He's a fairly standard fictional detective: world weary, rough when he needs to be, emotionally tender, all topped off with a wide streak of compassion and smart mouth. As he runs around interviewing everyone, patterns start to emerge, people are first open with him and provide him with a morsel of information or two (enough to keep the plot going), then they inevitably turn on him and refuse to tell the whole truth. After a while, it just started to feel too contrived. Another irritant in the narrative is Archer's totally unrealistic ability to more or less use local police as his lackeys. One just doesn't get enough sense of his charisma, why all these cops are willing to tip him off, and why all these dames keep sending him vibes. I suppose that's why noir often seems to work better for me on film, you get to see that charisma, plus the overly complex plots get streamlined-usually with much better results. Certainly, in the case of this story, the hyper-Freudian motives that emerge at the end are hardly satisfying.
Still, if you just can't live without your hard-boiled detectives, Archer certainly fits the mold enough to satisfy fanatics of the genre. It also may be that if one reads the series from the beginning, he emerges as a more fully realized character than he does in this single entry.
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5.0 out of 5 stars More than just a mystery writer Oct. 20 2001
It seems odd to say it on a page full of five star reviews, but Ross MacDonald gets consistently underrated -- he didn't just write pulp mysteries with fancy plots and perfect atmosphere. The books deliver that too, though the plots and Freudian resolutions aren't MacDonald's strongest points -- it's the perfect details, the complex characters (Lew Archer principal among them), the engaging intelligence. Aside from the fact that he didn't basically invent the 20th Century noir, MacDonald stands with Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett as a mystery writer who can be appreciated as a true literary master, comfortable next to acknowledged California masters like John Steinbeck and John Fante. And Ross MacDonald is the man who updated California noir so that everyone from James Ellroy and Elmore Leonard to Thomas Pynchon and Denis Johnson to Kem Nunn to Mike Davis could take it along to the next steps.
And the ZEBRA-STRIPED HEARSE is one of MacDonald's best, continuing to feel shockingly contemporary as a perfect literary portrait of the Golden State and its fascinating dark side.
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