Top of the heap # 3
For a novel that is hardly 250 pages, I did take a lot of time in finishing Ross Macdonald’s eight novel featuring his private detective Lew Archer.
Anyone who has read Raymond Chandler would recognize the name Ross Macdonald from his quote that appears frequently on the Philip Marlowe books; ” Chandler wrote like a slumming angel” it would say.
I was no stranger to Ross Macdonald, having read the first two novels and seen one of the Paul Newman films; but the novelist’s apparent claim to Chandler’s lineage did not sit well with me.
Like most great novels, this appears to be about something and then ultimately about something else, something deeper and filled with true emotion; here the something is a 20 year old missing son case that Archer takes up with little hope.
Social commentary should be your protagonist’s second language if you do wish to find a place in Chandler’s family tree; but Lew Archer is not the detective who has a witticism ready for any occasion- he doesn’t want to prove his worth in words or in wisdom.
The quality of being there and yet not being there is Ross Macdonald’s greatest achievement in creating this protagonist; he balances the novel with the right amount of depth and cool, without ever having to show off. This quality, by no ways a reflection of poor prose but restraint and ultimately treating his characters as though they were real and he caring about them, and yet not trying to get a tear out of us by pumping in pity.
Lew Archer, named one half for the writer of Ben-hur and the other half as a hat-tip (pen-tip?) to another crime writing great, prods along never resorting to unnecessary judgement but carrying on with the case, the Galton case. (I mean)
I often feel that a success of the crime novel lies in the moments that when I stop being the reader and become the detective; the Galton Case is filled with many such excellent moments but there also moments where other characters too become identifiable.
One of the all time greats; it’s the novel where I could relish a distinguished voice of Ross Macdonald and one which I hope to return for years and years.
As fate would have it- in a novel about finding one’s true identity.
Over to the next one.