RARA-AVIS: Re: That Ever-popular Macdonald Conspiracy Theory

Kevin Smith (kvnsmith@colba.net)
Fri, 5 Mar 1999 12:24:31 -0500 >Does anyone know if this book mentions what we've talked about here a
>couple of times: that his rep as Hardboiled Great #3 was pretty much
>manufacturd by a couple of critics at Time and some other magazine?

Well, maybe some of the critical respect was jump-started by The New York
Times Book Review piece. But his popularity (he supposedly sold a whole
hell of a lot of books-one article I read recently mentioned "Stephen
King-like sales") must be based on more than a few pieces in the NYTBR.

Were all those fans taken in? For a lot of people, the Lew Archer books are
a literary touchstone in their lives, and certainly in mine. I read one, by
chance, and had soon devoured them all. And I knew nothing of Macdonald's
critical rep, other than a few scattered cover blurbs, until years and
years later. Certainly, some of the puffery about Macdonald, particularly
by Macdonald himself, is hard to swallow. And not all the books are that
strong. Then again, he wrote lots of books, more than Hammett and Chandler
combined. But he did take the crime novel in directions it had never gone
before, and sold a lot of books doing it. And in the long run, he's
remained a strong influence on the hardboiled genre, like it or not.

Certainly you can see traces of Archer's compassion (or bleeding heart
weenie-ness, depending on your point of view) in the work of Robert Parker,
Robert Crais, Michael Collins, Bill Pronzini, Sue Grafton, Joseph Hansen,
Jonathan Valin and Stephen Greenleaf, among countless others. Someone must
have actually read the books, and not just a few newspaper pieces.

As for whether that makes Macdonald #3 or not, well, who's keeping score?
But his rep was pretty much manufactured? That's like saying The Maltese
Falcon is only viewed as a classic novel because Bogart was so good in the

As for whether THE MACDONALD CONSPIRACY is covered in Nolan's book or not,
there is a short piece, entitled exactly that, by William Goldman (one of
the conspirators) in INWARD JOURNEY, edited by Ralph Sipper (1984,
Mysterious Press).

Oh, and welcome to the list, Jeff.

Kevin Smith
The Thrilling Detective Web Site

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