Re: RARA-AVIS: Black Money

Date: 04 Feb 2005

A bit late, but I thought I'd add my comments.

A long time ago, I moved on to Macdonald right after reading Chandler and Hammett (well, what little Hammett was in print at the time -- the novels. The Continental Op and Big Knockover). I picked up a few Archers in no particular order and enjoyed them very much as an extension of the Chandler paradigm. I liked them enough that I went back and read all of the Archers in order, in very short order. Obviously, reading them back-to-back like that, I couldn't miss that many, if not most, of them adhere to a pattern. However, that never really bothered me. I took them as variations on a theme, or the same picture from different angles.

But that was a long time ago. So I was curious how I'd feel about him now. Black Money is not as good as I remember some of the books being, but I'm not sure if that relfects Macdonald as a whole or just this one novel within the series. Still, I enjoyed it very much. And not just for nostalgia. I still like the voice and the character. Some complain that there is not much to Archer, but I actually think that's a positive. It allows readers to fill in the gaps as they wish and identify more directly with Archer. At least that's how it works for me. I actually felt it was a welcome change from the surplus of personal info/padding many contemporary crime authors bury their characters in.

The plotting was good, even if Archer makes some pretty big intuitive leaps. Luckily, Macdonald writes well enough to slide past those.

And I was finally reminded of which book has Archer paraphrasing Nelson Algren. On page 178 of my Warner Books edition, in reference to Taps's wife trying to get him to take her away from all this, Archer says,
"Clearly she had troubles, and a wise man I knew in Chicago had said once and for all: 'Never sleep with anyone whose troubles are worse than your own.'" James Crumley credited this homily to Archer in his epigram for his very Macdonald-esque The Wrong Case, but Macdonald credits Algren.

So I looked up Algren in Nolan's bio of Macdonald (one of these days I've got to stop using it as a reference book and actually read it). It seems that Algren was a huge influence on Macdonald. Macdonald used Algren's stories as examples in the writing classes he taught. He also partially modelled Blue City after Algren's Never Come Morning (along with several Hammett stories).

And that brings me to Gatsby. I re-read Gatsby for the first time in decades before re-reading Black Money for the first time in almost as long. Although the parallels were striking, I doubt I would have noticed them if I hadn't read them together. (To my surprise, the Gatsby model for this book does not seem to be mentioned in Nolan.) Martell is clearly a Gatsby figure, a kid who came up from nothing, got involved with a gangster and came back for a girl whose idealized image he had earlier fallen in love with. Both meet tragic ends that have more to do with love than gangsters. However, there were also some clear differences. Gatsby was largely silent about his past, letting others fill in, and inflate his reputation. Martell, on the other hand, made up and spread his own stories.

Of course, Black Money is no Great Gatsby, but I still enjoyed re-visiting Lew Acrher.


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