Friday, April 12, 2019

Ross Macdonald: An Ongoing Investigation

I don’t often return to a subject after an interval of 20 years, but that’s exactly what I am doing today. Back in April 1999, I assembled—for January Magazine—a diverse collection of articles focused on renowned California detective fictionist Ross Macdonald and his original Lew Archer private eye novel, The Moving Target, which was then celebrating its 50th year in print. Kevin Burton Smith, Gary Phillips, and Frederick Zackel all contributed personal essays to the project; Swedish crime-fiction enthusiast Karl-Erik Lindkvist chose his three favorite Archer stories; I wrote about my single, long-ago meeting with Macdonald (whose real name was Kenneth Millar); and I also interviewed Los Angeles-area journalist and critic Tom Nolan, author of the then freshly published work, Ross Macdonald: A Biography.

Weeks ago, I received the go-ahead from my editor at CrimeReads to write a couple more Macdonald tribute pieces, this time tied in with The Moving Target’s official 70th anniversary on April 11, 2019. One thing I planned to do was assemble a gallery of best and worst covers from the novel’s history; that piece went up online yesterday, right on schedule. In addition, I wanted to interview Nolan once more. He and I have stayed in e-mail touch over the last two decades, and I talked at length with him again (this time for Kirkus Reviews and The Rap Sheet) in 2015, the centennial year of Macdonald’s birth.

In 1999, Tom Nolan had produced only the one book about P.I. Archer’s creator. However, as I explain in this piece posted earlier today in CrimeReads, since that time he
has furthered his Macdonald scholarship by, first, collecting three of the author’s previously unpublished pieces of short fiction in Strangers in Town (2001), and then compiling, in 2007’s The Archer Files, all of the Archer short stories (plus fragments—like this one—of unfinished yarns). With Suzanne Marrs, Nolan edited Meanwhile There Are Letters (2015), which gathered together hundreds of revealing missives Macdonald exchanged with Pulitzer Prize-winning Mississippi author Eudora Welty between 1970 and 1982. And most recently, Nolan edited the Library of America’s three-volume set of Archer mysteries, 11 novels in total.
Although I initially worried that on this third go-round I wouldn’t have any more worthwhile questions to pitch Nolan’s way, as I started thinking about Macdonald and his books and all that Nolan has written about both over the last two decades, I found there was no shortage of things about which I remained curious. During the course of our e-mail exchange, we talked about the endurance of Macdonald’s legacy; the troubles he faced as a boy and as a father, and how those fed his fiction; his sometimes “quarrelsome marriage” to fellow mystery writer Margaret Millar; his mysterious middle-age suicide attempt; his most influential books, and a great deal besides.

Click here to real all about it.

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