August 22, 2007


Hardened But Sensitive (OTTO PENZLER, August 22, 2007, NY Sun)

Ross Macdonald's Lew Archer is as close to the quintessential American private detective of America in the 1960s as it is possible to get. Although his adventures began in 1949 and did not toll their final peal until 1976, his attitude and personality reflected a combination of California hipness and hippie-ness that could have existed nowhere else, nor at any other time.

While Archer started out as a tough guy with idealism in his bones, he slowly morphed into a tough guy whose idealism took a turn into the kind of sympathetic understanding and forgiveness that one is more likely to associate with a man of the cloth than of a former cop whose job is to identify and locate people who have killed other people.

I cannot think of many authors I admire more than Kenneth Millar, who used the Ross Macdonald pseudonym for most of the Archer novels and stories. [...]

A new complete collection of Archer's stories, "The Archer Files" (Crippen & Landru Publishers, 349 pages, $25), together with a group of previously unpublished notes, has just been released, and it is a major publishing event — even if it is from a small independent house.

As Mr. Penzler points out later, by the end Macdonald had strayed into some pretty dodgy territory as he gave in to the spiritual death of the 60s/70s, but the only challenger he really has for the master of the p.i. novel is Loren D. Estleman, who has the advantage of having written during a more American era.

Lew Archer is back on the case: Ross Macdonald helped rewrite the hard-boiled detective tradition. By spring, all of his novels will be back in print (Scott Timberg, August 22, 2007, LA Times)

[W]hile Archer narrates 18 novels, deemed by William Goldman in 1969 as "the finest series of detective novels ever written by an American author," he remains almost spectral -- in the shadows of his own books.

Macdonald himself, according to biographer Tom Nolan, "liked to say that Archer was such a 'thin presence' that if he turned sideways he'd disappear."

But the brooding detective -- whose tales have proven inspirational to writers from Robert Crais to James Ellroy to Michael Chabon -- has become, this summer, a bit less elusive.

Vintage Books has just released two early Archer novels, 1951's "The Way Some People Die" and '52's "The Ivory Grin," on its Black Lizard imprint. These books, which have not been widely available for more than a decade, will be joined by two other Archers in December. When "The Instant Enemy" and "The Blue Hammer," Macdonald's last novel, come out next April, all 18 Archer books will be in print.

At the same time, biographer Nolan has for the first time compiled all of the short stories in which Archer appears, as well as 11 fragments he found in the author's archives at UC Irvine. They're all reprinted in the new "The Archer Files," which begins with Nolan's 25-page biographical sketch of the detective.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 22, 2007 8:01 AM

Thanks for the link to the "Underground Man" review. Macdonald's books are great. I reread them all every few years

Posted by: jdkelly at August 22, 2007 9:51 AM