RARA-AVIS: Macdonald versus Spillane: Daddy Figures

From: Kevin Burton Smith ( kvnsmith@thrillingdetective.com)
Date: 30 Oct 2007

Bill wrote:

> When I discovered Ross Macdonald in the early '60s, I couldn't read
> his
> books fast enough. I stayed up into the wee hours finishing some of
> them,
> including THE CHILL, probably my favorite among his books. I vaguely
> remember someone (Boucher?) saying that Macdonald's plots were "like a
> fishhook in the mind." That's the way they worked for me. Obviously
> not
> for others.

I think some of it at least has to do with when you read them, and where you sit politically. Not totally, of course, but in a sorta general way.

When I was doing an essay on Macdonald several years ago, I heard from a lot of fans, and it turned out many of them had read him in their early twenties or late teens. There's something sorta paternal about Archer, the detective as father figure, I think, that appeals to the adolescent or young adult mindset. All those troubled kids in those stories, and it was always Archer, come a-calling, who dug down deep and understood.

And of course, Macdonald's heyday was the sixties and seventies, an era chockful of young adult angst and father issues. To question the status quo is, in a way, to rebel against your father.

You like to talk and question, to understand, read Macdonald.

Whereas Spillane's kill-'em-all mindset probably finds more of a home with those who favor physical force as a solution to almost any problem. Daddy knows best.

You prefer to push around someone to prove the right of your cause, you'd probably love Spillane. It plays right into the might-is-right mythology.

Of course, it's not all cut-and-dried -- it's just a theory, and I haven't even had my coffee yet. Lots of people love both authors, but rarely, I'm sure, for the same reasons.

Kevin Burton Smith The Thrilling Detective Web Site

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