Re: RARA-AVIS: Stirring up trouble: Drowning and Connelly

Mario Taboada (
Tue, 13 Jan 1998 09:38:01 +0000 It's hard for me to be objective about Ross Macdonald. He's one of those
authors that I have read and re-read endlessly. There are weaknesses one
can bring out - to the point of doing a hatchet-job on him, en extreme
that I hope can be avoided, for which avoidance I can only adduce
sentimental reasons, I'm afraid. But the man can be criticized, and his
weaknesses listed.

First, there is a sameness to his stories (original plots were not his
forte), especially those after The Galton Case.

Second, he deals with a very narrow sector of society (mainly, the
well-heeled in Southern California, a special breed which deserves the
dislike that Macdonald showers on it); he rarely deals with the more
earthy types that also abound in that strange land. Thus he cannot be
said to be a realistic author or as portraying his time and society at

Third, his "psychological" concern in the extended creative period that
started around 1960 and lasted until his last book, made him drift very
far from the hardboiled. Books like "The Goodbye Look" or "The
Underground Man", marvellous as they are, have nothing to do with, say,
Chandler's world or point of view. These could well have been labelled
"straight" novels.

These are my criticisms. But there are also equally clear virtues; I
agree with those who have praised his solid narrative style, his economy
and precision in the use of language, his depth of characterization, and
his understanding and recreation of a particular human fauna.

I find it hard to rank him in a pantheon that seems ever expanding; is
he better than or even as good as Fredric Brown? Does he match Gault at
his best? How does he stand in relation to Wade Miller? To Thomas Dewey?
He had the good fortune of being noticed by the more "literary" critics,
embraced by the public, and ended up enjoying universal fame and
becoming a "classic" - not always a good thing.

Finally, I would simply ignore Joyce Carol Oates. I have very little
respect for her writing (she is a bore) and none for her criticism in
the mystery genre (she seems to understand nothing about it).

Best regards,

Mario Taboada
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