Ross Macdonald, Master of Mystery Fiction

Ross Macdonald, Master of Mystery Fiction

ROSS MACDONALD wrote complicated plots about the idle rich and their wayward, self-destructive children. Many of his stories touched on family secrets and fears.

 

Eighteen of his novels featured private eye Lew Harper, a six-foot-two, 190-pound heavy smoker with blue-gray eyes.

Archer who lived in a modest second floor apartment in West Los Angeles—a man with a visual appreciation for pretty women and a taste for hard liquor.

Success did not come easy. Macdonald’s first Lew Archer novel, The Moving Target, was rejected by the publisher of his first four books, according to Crime Fiction Editor J.Kingston Pierce.

 

Critics ranked Macdonald and authors Dashiell Hammett  and Raymond Chandler as “the holy trinity of American crime writers.”

But Macdonald managed to rise above Hammett and Chandler, his literary predecessors, by adding more depth to his literary gumshoe.

As the series expanded, so did Archer. In Macdonald’s skillful hands, his private eye became multi-dimensional and less predictable. He succeeded in pushing the crime novel in a new direction, one that readers devoured.

The name of the fictional private detective was changed from Lew Archer  to Lew Harper in the feature film “Harper” (1966), an adaptation of Macdonald’s 1949 series debut novel, “The Moving Target.” Paul Newman played Harper. He also starred in the 1975 film “The Drowning Pool,” which was based on a similarly titled 1950 Macdonald novel.

 

Macdonald’s novels–which sold millions–were serious, not so much about violence than the deep-seated reasons behind the violence.

Many of his stories focused on the psychological deterioration of generations.

Ross Macdonald was the pen name for Kenneth Millar was born in Los Gatos, California, Dec. 15, 1915. After his parents separated, he went to Canada with his mother where he attended the University Western Ontario.

Taking a break from his studies, he traveled throughout Europe for about a year. When he returned, Macdonald enrolled in the University of Michigan and obtained a Ph.D in American literature in 1951.

 

Macdonald started writing under the name John Macdonald, then John Ross McDonald, and finally as Ross Macdonald.

His Lew Archer novels drew more critical acclaim than any other author of private eye stories.

 “Ten years ago, while nobody was watching–or, rather, while everyone was looking in the wrong direction–a writer of detective stories turned into a major American novelist. –John Leonard, The New York Times Book Review

“…the greatest mystery novelist of his age, I would argue, even greater than Chandler.” –Author John Connolly.

In addition to novels, Macdonald wrote short stories, short non-fiction, and a number of essays. The stories he wrote bordered on the personal.

 

Many of the themes he wrote about were reflected in his own dysfunctional life.

He grew up essentially fatherless, got involved in violent fights as a youngster. He admitted to taking a lot of chances as a youngster, including having sex at eight years old, drinking when he was twelve.

When Macdonald died in 1983, from Alzheimer’s, he was considered the most most highly-regarded crime fiction writer in America.

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2 Comments

  1. Judy says:

    What do you think is the best ever Ross Macdonald book?

  2. Tom Rizzo says:

    Tough questions, Judy. But I liked “The Goodbye Look” for the way it tackled dysfunctional family secrets and a crime decades old. Lots of twists and turns.

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