Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Did Somebody Say Macdonald?

Today marks the 102nd anniversary of Kenneth Millar’s birth in Los Gatos, California. After a childhood relocation to Canada and a much later return to the Golden State, Millar would become—with the adoption of a pseudonym—Ross Macdonald, the author of 18 novels featuring compassionate Los Angeles private investigator Lew Archer, beginning with 1949’s The Moving Target. As The Thrilling Detective Web Site opines, Macdonald “arguably forms the third point of what is now considered the Holy Trinity of hard-boiled detective fiction, the other points being, of course, Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, and is, to many, the most critically and academically respected of the three.” Or, to quote from The New York Times, Macdonald was “a mystery novelist who didn't so much transcend the genre as elevate it, showing again (like Hammett, Faulkner, Collins, Dickens, Greene, and many others since Poe) how the crime story can at any time become art.”

Between his birthday and reports in the news this week about fires raging around Santa Barbara, California—much as they did in Macdonald’s splendid 1971 Archer novel, The Underground Man (though he called Santa Barbara “Santa Teresa” in that story)—now seems a rather ideal time to revisit the subjects of Macdonald’s life and fiction-writing career. We’ve written a good deal about both in The Rap Sheet over the years. Here are links to some of the principal stories comprising that coverage:

Archer’s Return Engagement” (July 11, 2006)
A Master’s Last Bow,” by Tom Nolan (July 2, 2007)
‘Heyday in the Blood’: A Never-Before-Published Lew Archer Tale” (July 3, 2007)
A Saint with a Gun” (July 29, 2007)
‘Distinction Is Everything’” (December 13, 2008)
The Third Man” (August 3, 2009)
Graves Goes to His Grave” (March 14, 2010)
On the Case with Tom Nolan” (April 28, 2015)
Macdonald Mines His Own Life” (May 3, 2015)
At 100, Ross Is Still Boss” (December 13, 2015)
‘Other People’s Lives Are My Business’” (September 19, 2017)

In 1999, long before I created The Rap Sheet, I edited a special package of features for January Magazine, timed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of The Moving Target’s original publication. You can find all of those stories—including my first interview with the author’s biographer, Tom Nolan; Frederick Zackel’s memories of being mentored by Macdonald; and my own fond recollections of meeting Millar/Macdonald in Santa Barbara years ago—by clicking here.

Check out, as well, this attractive collection of Macdonald book fronts from my other blog, Killer Covers. And this column I wrote for Kirkus Reviews, in which I recall how my high school librarian ignited my interest in crime fiction by giving me a copy of Macdonald’s first novel. There are also plenty of links here to Macdonald tributes composed in 2013 as part of Patti Abbott’s Friday “forgotten books” series.

In association with a contest, held in 2011, to give away reprints of Macdonald’s early novels, The Rap Sheet asked readers to choose their favorite Archer yarns. Here are the top-five vote-getters:

1. The Chill (1964)
2. The Underground Man (1971)
3. The Galton Case (1959)
4. The Zebra-Striped Hearse (1962)
5. The Instant Enemy (1968)

Finally, Ross Macdonald died of Alzheimer’s disease on July 11, 1983, at 67 years of age. Here’s his obituary in The New York Times; The Washington Post’s obit can be found here.

(Hat tip to Frederick Zackel.)

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