From: Brian Thornton ( tieresias@worldnet.att.net)
Date: 19 Aug 2007

Hello Fellow Rare Birds-

Just picked up this little gem (the trade paperback, not the fifty dollar hardback with "extras"), and am thrilled to have this interesting retrospective of Ross MacDonald's short work featuring the inimitable Lew Archer. Has anyone else read it? From the back cover:

"THE ARCHER FILES for the first time collects all the brief Archer fiction: the stories from MacDonald's 1955 paperback-original THE NAME IS ARCHER, the additional tales included in the Otto Penzler-edited 1977 volume LEW ARCHER: PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR, and the three then-unknown novellas presented in Crippen & Landru's 2001 book STRANGERS IN TOWN. Also included in THE ARCHER FILES are several lengthy, never-before-published fragments of unfinished Macdonald stories: 'case notes,' as it were, from the files of Lew Archer."

I found this collection irresistible, especially in light of the inclusion of the so-called "case notes," which are really just the first several pages of a number of what turned out to be uncompleted stories. I've found these interesting going, an opportunity to see how MacDonald got started on a story over several different phases of his writing career, beginning with a 1952 fragment with a wonderful title ("Heyday in the Blood"), and ending with 1965's "100 Pesos" (the stories themselves begin much earlier, with "Find the Woman" and "Death by Water," fboth rom 1946.

For those Rare Birds who haven't experienced the work of Ross MacDonald, I think THE ARCHER FILES could be a welcome entree into the world of Lew Archer for you, and since it's made up entirely of short-stories and novellas, it's a potentially minimal commitment. Nolan has also included an interesting, speculative "biographical essay" based upon an exhaustive reading of MacDonald's entire body of work (he cites various comments Archer dropped here and there throughout the essay), which, if not necessarily authentic, is certainly provocative, and therefore worth a look.

Someone wrote here recently about Chandler's short fiction, lauding it as being superior in many ways to his novels. I agree with that sentiment, and fortunate indeed was I that I picked up the TROUBLE IS MY BUSINESS as my initial foray into Chandler's writing back when I was a teenager. I don't think that MacDonald's short stuff is "better" than his novels, but because he doesn't have a couple of hundred pages in which to spin one of his famous (infamous?) byzantine plots, it's definitely easier to keep track of the other characters!

All the Best-

Brian Thornton

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