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

M-T (
Fri, 05 Mar 1999 22:15:09 -0500 Kevin:

<<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.>>

Yes, he has been influential, but that influence has not been entirely
beneficial. Macdonald was, I think, the first universally famous
hardboiled writer that did not serve time in the pulps. He had literary
aspirations and he showed the literary technique of a heavyweight right
from his first book. However, his thematic range is quite narrow, and
his cast of characters is restricted almost exclusively to certain
groups of wealthy people in Southern California and their young. If you
compare him to contemporaries like John D. MacDonald, William Campbell
Gault, Fredric Brown, Charles Willeford, Cornell Woolrich, or even
Thomas Dewey (though Dewey is in some respects close to Macdonald), you
will notice that they surpassed him in variety of invention of plots,
characters, and situations. Then, too, after The Galton Case, all of
Macdonald's books are essentially the same Freudian tangle; the
virtuosity is persuasive and one cannot stop reading -- but at the end,
this reader feels cheated. It was the same story all over again, once

<<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.>>

I rank Hansen and Greenleaf quite a bit above Macdonald; they are every
bit as good technically but they add a lot of depth and range to the
characters and situations; their novels are definitely not all the same.
I think Parker and Crais take after Chandler, not Macdonald. Grafton has
the trappings and settings but not the depth of Macdonald. Her excellent
plots deserve a Chandler treatment.

As to the conspiracy theory, there must be some truth to it, but, as has
been pointed out, Macdonald was already famous when those articles
appeared. I am sure that they boosted his sales, a good thing that
didn't hurt anybody else. On the contrary, it kept the genre visible at
a difficult time.

In some ways, he led the P.I. genre towards a dead end; too much Freud,
too little adventure; too much gloom, too little action. Sometimes his
beautifully crafted scenes are suffocating, especially since there is no
humor to lighten them up. It's an ordered, boring, predictably rotten

To be continued, probably. I have a feeling that this thread is going to
heat up.


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