The literary private detective novel reached its zenith with the creation of Lew Archer, the last legitimate heir to the Chandler/Marlowe tradition. This first novel in the series is still close enough to the 1940s roots of the genre to evoke the peak period of noir fiction, and introduces some of the best writing ever to grace a mystery story. Later novels in this series, which extended into the 1970s, variably fell victim to then-trendy ideas about psychiatry that mar their realism and temper the otherwise shrewd and sympathetic voice of Lew Archer. The early books still display all the virtuosity of good writing with tight plots and a believable narrator. Kenneth Millar, who wrote under the pseudonym Ross MacDonald, has produced some of the best similes in English, and they pop up like gems in the early books. In "The Moving Target", film fans will recognize the plot from "Harper", which cast Paul Newman in the starring role. (He insisted on changing the hero's name for the movie, apparently because he doesn't like to play characters whose names start with "A"). But the narrative voice is what makes these novels something special, and that just doesn't translate to the screen. This is a great novel masquerading as a mystery.
The Moving Target, originally published in 1949, is Ross MacDonald's first Lew Archer novel. While Archer's character has yet to fully blossom, most of MacDonald's typical story devices are represented; an interconnected trail of escalating violence, innocent youth, duel identities and a twist ending that makes you rethink the entire novel. Who kidnapped wealthy alcoholic Ralph Samson? Was it the cult leader Samson mysteriously gifted his mountain reteat to? His bitter cripppled wife? Or perhaps his youthful pilot or aging lawyer trapped in a love triangle with Sampson's daughter. It's up to Archer to find out, and take a few beatings on the way.
This book starts out like the typical mystery novel . . . with a mystery, a detective, and the hint of trouble. However, before long, you can't help but realize this book is no typical mystery. This book is paced as furiously as any mystery, but it carries the depth of true literature. This is simply no mystery to be solved or adventure to be told. The Moving Target is the sordid tale of a sade family the growth of a young woman. Who knew Ross MacDonald was so good? I guess I'll have to order more books by him. If Hammett gave birth to noir and Chandler taught it how to walk, then MacDonald provided the education. I'm very impressed!