RARA-AVIS: Re: Harper (1966)

From: Gonzalo Baeza (gbaeza@gmail.com)
Date: 30 Mar 2009

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    Thanks to everyone for the recommendations and this review. I'm particularly intrigued by Black Money, seeing how it's a reimagining of The Great gatsby, one of my favorite novels.


    --- In rara-avis-l@yahoogroups.com, Brian Thornton <bthorntonwriter@...> wrote:
    > Gonzalo-
    > You're getting a lot of terrific intel from the other Rare Birds, so I'll
    > keep my response brief. I've read them all, and I agree with Mario's
    > assessment of the beginning of the series being far more indebted to
    > Chandler's example than the later books. There's also quite a bit more
    > direct violence (in other words, stuff that doesn't happen "on camera" if
    > you catch my meaning).
    > All in all I think that MacDonald really began to hit his stride during the
    > late 50s (especially by the time of the publication of THE DOOMSTERS, and by
    > that I mean that he really had found his own voice. This led to his hey-day
    > WOMAN, THE ZEBRA-STRIPED HEARSE and MacDonald's personal favorite from his
    > series, BLACK MONEY (a re-imagining of THE GREAT GATSBY, one of his favorite
    > works of fiction) come to mind.
    > In a way I envy you just coming across this terrific series. Although I can
    > read these books over and over again, I can never again discover them for
    > the first time.
    > I recently wrote a review of THE DOOMSTERS for Patricia Abbott's Forgotten
    > Books Blog, and I've enclosed the text of that review below, in case you're
    > interested.
    > All the Best-
    > Brian
    > *THE DOOMSTERS by Ross MacDonald*
    > So hey, I just read this terrific book by a major writer in the mystery
    > canon. In it, a world-weary private investigator allows himself to get
    > sucked in to the domestic problems of a rich, prominent Southern California
    > family. As the story plays out, the P.I. uncovers a number of old secrets,
    > all of which point toward a long-covered up crime committed by a member of
    > the prestigious family's eminently respectable older generation. The
    > current family crisis is a direct result of that original crime (or, if you
    > prefer, "sin"), and also invariably involves a relatively blameless member
    > of the family's younger generation.
    > The author of course is Ross MacDonald. And the paragraph above could
    > describe most of the books he wrote from the mid-fifties onward. It's been
    > said of MacDonald that for the second half of his career he told one story
    > over and over, but he told it so well, and varied the details enough that
    > few readers cared. Titles such as THE DROWNING POOL, THE CHILL, THE
    > WYCHERLY WOMAN, THE GALTON CASE, and BLACK MONEY bear this out. In fact,
    > beginning with THE CHILL in 1960, MacDonald had a decade-long run of
    > acclaimed books utilizing variations of the above basic plot framework.
    > But what about his earlier work? MacDonald's series hero Lew Archer started
    > out a hard-boiled member of the Hammett/Chandler school, but evolved into
    > something completely different. Over the course of the series, Archer
    > becomes a less and less obtrusive observer of the manifold ways in which
    > families and their various pathologies can prey upon their children.
    > THE DOOMSTERS, published in 1959 (a year before the land-mark THE CHILL)
    > chronicles Archer's transition from hard-boiled, physical, wise-cracking
    > P.I. to quasi-social worker, with terrific results. The vestiges of
    > MacDonald's earlier penchant for action scenes are there (including Archer
    > being attacked and placed in a sleeper hold in his own car by a client who
    > then steals said car). So, too is MacDonald's evolving strong voice and
    > trademark elegiac language: "Before the door closed, one of them broke into
    > a storm of weeping. The noise of grief is impersonal, and I couldn't be
    > sure which one of them it was. But I thought it must have been Mildred. Her
    > loss was the worst. It had been going on for a long time, and was
    > continuing."
    > With deft characterization, a strong, if familiar plot, and the words of the
    > one of the 20th century's great writers, THE DOOMSTERS is on a par with
    > MacDonald's best work during the 60s. Lost in the roar of critical acclaim
    > that MacDonald received as a result of the publication of THE CHILL a year
    > later, THE DOOMSTERS has been unfairly forgotten. This year marks the
    > fiftieth anniversary of its publication, and it' well worth a read.
    > [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]

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