RARA-AVIS: Zebra-Striped Hearse

From: Michael Robison ( miker_zspider@yahoo.com)
Date: 11 Feb 2004

Andrew wrote: Anyway, I'd also like to say that though I've only read The Zebra Striped-Hearse and a Lew Archer short fiction collection, Ross McDonald is special to me, because he was the first hard-boiled writer I ever read.

*********** I finished THE ZEBRA-STRIPED HEARSE about a month ago.
 I'm glad I gave him another go after the mediocre DARK TUNNEL. Ross looks to be coming from the Chandler camp, both in plot and the word play. The plot involves the wayward crazy daughter of a rich guy
(Chandler's BIG SLEEP and LONG GOODBYE). I have heard that Ross wrote one book over and over, and with only two under my belt I can already see the pattern developing. I'll cherry pick a couple more and then move on.

One difference from Chandler, in the little that I've read, was the center of turbulence. Chandler's work has got a spotlight on Marlowe, whereas Macdonald's emphasis is on the wounded family, with a more subtle involvement from Lew. Macdonald's work is less self-conscious.

Macdonald's use of simile and metaphor was interesting. Rather than just random images, there was an overall theme to them that projected an ethereal, other-worldly background to the novel. It was obviously intentionally conceived. I believe the device was meant to pan out from the intense tunnel vision focus and give it that ennobling big-picture panorama. I can't say I found it wholly effective. Eudora Welty liked it, though.

One of the great advantages of the detective novel is its built-in propensity towards the sad vignettes of the lost and lonely. In this Macdonald excels. Bluesy.


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