The Name is Archer

I consume a fair amount of crime novels, but I’ve never read any Ross Macdonald. I happened in to this book because I was at a friend’s house and he just handed it to me. I started it within a few days, which I rarely do, but I was between works of fiction and didn’t feel like working down my backlog, so I launched into it.

This book is gritty, hardboiled detective fiction in short story format, published in 1955. It’s a great introduction to Ross Macdonald and his main character Lew Archer, a California private detective.

To give you an idea, in the story Gone Girl, Archer walks into a bar to inquire about the whereabouts of a woman. He’s greeted by a piano-playing barman who talks in rhymes. Unsurprisingly, Archer replies with a rhyme of his own:

Where did she lam, Sam, or don’t you give a damn?

That’s what I’m talking about, quirky, strange, with pretty spare prose, but great stories. So great in fact, that I’m going to read all of the Lew Archer novels in order starting with The Moving Target, which MacDonald wrote in 1949. It was also made into a movie with Paul Newman, entitled Harper. I just purchased the book on the Kindle (pleasantly surprised that Vintage has these in digital format).

I’ve rooted around a little and it appears that Sue Grafton was highly influenced by Ross Macdonald. That, my friends, is some serious validation for Macdonald because Grafton is one of my favorite writers (not that Macdonald needs any validation, but from my perspective…). I’ll have more about this link to Grafton after I’ve read The Moving Target.

I liked all the stories in The Name is Archer. They are dark and violent and mostly have surprise endings. There is also plenty of dry humor, like this passage from the story entitled The Suicide:

On the way to the diner, she caught the eye of every man on the train who wasn’t asleep. Even some of the sleeping ones stirred, as if her passing had induced a dream. I censored my personal dream. She was too young for me, too innocent. I told myself that my interest was strictly paternal.

I’m going to like this stuff a lot. I can tell.