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on August 4, 1997
Ross Macdonald writes in the tradition of the American detective story as developed by Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. MacDonald is definatly inferior to these masters but still worth reading.
The language of the classic American Detective story is the language of the street, and MacDonald can write with skill. His hero/narrator, Archer, is a man who raised himself out of the slums; a classic "tough guy" with a street wise knowledge of how people act and how to handle them. MacDonald, however, is never really comfortable with this view of life. His background is that of an academic (Ph. D, taught school, studied psyciatry) and it shows in all the wrong ways. We often hear little mini-lectures on the inner workings of the characters and are occasionally treated to such literary allusions as Dante and Beatrice. These things clash badly with the "tough guy" tone of the book, and this inconsistancy is MacDonalds most serious defect.
When it comes to plotting, however, MacDonald is excellent. His plots are cleaver, complex and have the feel of truth about them - something that is often lacking in today's mysterys. When he isn't writing like a collage professor, Macdonald can write dialogue that has the dangerous and gritty feel of the underworld. And there are moments that are priceless. One of those moments is when as when the victim, who has had most of her family murdered, lies down in a pool of blood next to her dead lover/murderer, the man responsible for the murders and also the man she loved. She lays there looking at him until the police come.
While he may not have the consistancy of Hammett or Chandler, MacDonald has many of the things that make American detective fiction work, and this book is one of his best.