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on December 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).
The other characters, the female ones included, are neither overly virtuous nor utterly weak as the negative reviewers seem to believe. They are simply ordinary people caught up in a bad situation. Politically Correct (even though the term didn't even exist when the book was written) platitudes give way to a realism never seen before in a detective story. MacDonald transcended genre.
Lew Archer is above all a flawed romantic who tries to make sense of a senseless world. I think the world could use a few more Lew Archers. Both this character and his creator have been inspirational to me in more ways than I can count.
Highly recommended.
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on August 23, 1998
Combines the hard-boiled cynicism of old-school noir writers like Dashiell Hammett with an emerging concern about the modern age; features an aging Lew Archer who is more visibly aware of his own isolation and loneliness, on the track of a missing 6-year-old boy. The themes include parallels between natural and human destruction, the gap between the generations, and the truth's use as a weapon as much as a liberator. Ripped away a day of life.
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on September 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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on November 18, 2000
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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on July 15, 1999
MacDonald is a master of the detective novel. His hard-boiled narrator Lew Archer talks the reader through a confusing tangle of relationships in a southern California setting. Fictional detectives tend to be a self-pitying lot, and Archer is no exception to this rule, but MacDonald makes him more of a philospher than a reader might expect. Yes, he is more complex than an ex-cop private dick is supposed to be, but that is why we love to read about life through his eyes. Grab this book, put on your hat, find a nice retro diner, buy a pack of Luckys, order up a strong cup of coffee, and be prepared to be amazed.
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on January 7, 1999
I'm a big fan of Ross Macdonald's Lew Archer novels, and this one's my favorite. Perhaps it's something about the way he perfectly captures Southern California during a brush-fire at the beginning of this novel, or maybe Archer's struggle to understand the generation behind his. Anyway, it's my favorite novel by one of my favorite authors.
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on October 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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on January 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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on August 31, 1999
I hate to piggyback on another reader's review but after reading Shadowskc's review, I just had to comment on this book, rather than remain just another passive reader. I too only read part of the book and found it so lacking I could not finish it. I read on the average of two books per week, so a book has to be really bad when I will not finsh reading it. The plot had some good beginnings but the characters were so trite and insipid they quickly became offensive. I am not a female chauvinist by any stretch of the imagination, but the women in this book were depicted as not being capable of a higher status than being doormats for the males in the book and unable to make any decisions without male intervention. I realize this author wrote back in the dark ages, but I have a feeling that even if he wrote during the 90's, the main character, Mr. Private Investigator, would be a gay-bashing, self-proclaimed stud, sporting a buzz haircut and camouflage tee shirt. I am sure there are enough Neanderthals out there to support this book's reprinting but I for one feel mislead by the synopsis and regret having purchased the book. If this book is consider to be a "classic" of some kind, I would think it could best be used as mandatory reading in a creative writing class as the "classic" example of how NOT to write, how to build characters not of this planet, how to destroy a potentially good plot and in the process, offend anyone with an IQ above room temperature. If you really like good suspense novels, try Ridley Pearson. He is an excellent writer who will keep you on the edge of your chair rather than on the edge of a coma as does MacDonald. Or for real "classic" character development, try Patrick McGrath.
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on August 25, 1999
I would not recommend anyone buy this book, even if they find it at a garage sale for a dime. The plot is fine but the characters are unbeliveable. After 60 pages I finally quit reading and gave up. At the end of 60 pages, this bozo of a PI had uncovered a murder and a kidnapping and had not yet called the police in on the case. You have got to be kidding me. I left him on a boat being held at gun point. Good place for him. There was no timeframe in the book I could find. No dates, no current events discussed. I would surmise it was in the 50's or 60's considering the way women were portrayed at wimpie little braindeads. And of course, the male detective was just ever soooo coool all the time. Stay away from this work of art, unless you like those banal, brainless and boring gothic love stories. You know the type, with the big breasted woman on the front, looking oh so distressed in front of a gothic mansion.
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