The Drowning Pool

Thanks to authors like Ross MacDonald, I think I’ll always read American detective novels. It’s just what I do. MacDonald’s character Lew Archer is quickly becoming one of my favorite fictional characters because of his keen observations, sense of humor, and taste in alcohol.

Archer seems to spend a lot of time in bars looking for information and MacDonald loves to add a little color by describing the place and the inhabitants (pg 76):

The place was built on two levels, so that the bar commanded a view of the dining-room. It was nearly two o’clock. The bar was doing a rush-hour business before the curfew knelled. I found an empty stool, ordered a Guinness stout for energy, and looked around me.

I love Guinness. MacDonald followed this with the introduction to some of the key characters. I didn’t recognize how important this character survey was at the time, but I learned my lesson.

Archer’s humor tends to the wry side. Here’s him recounting a trip to an opulent mansion looking for a black limousine (pg 99):

I climbed into my car, closing the door very gently so as not to start an avalanche of money. The loop in the drive took me past the garages. They contained an Austin, a jeep, and a white roadster, but no black limousine.

Hah, “an avalanche of money,” that’s funny stuff. I cracked a smile.

Or what about when he snuck up on a guy from a clump of trees (pg 109).

Reavis glanced at me, the color mounting floridly in his face. “Archer?”

I said: “The name is Leatherstocking.”

I’m rolling on the floor at this point. Not only does MacDonald toss in humor, but he pays tribute to one of America’s greatest writers. It’s really inventive.

The villains aren’t funny though.


This book contained a somewhat out-of-place scene with an evil doctor who uses high pressure water torture on his subjects (plenty of “drowning pool” references). Sue Grafton was highly influenced by MacDonald but I don’t think she’s ever created a villain so bizarre. If memory serves, neither has Burke or Hillerman, two of my other favorite authors. I’ll start paying more attention. Archer ends up escaping from this water torture chamber by filling it up until the door bursts open from the pressure. Then he gets washed out and kills the doctor. It was kind of James Bond-like. Interesting tactic by MacDonald. I’m okay with it.

This is book two with Archer and I’m ready to stay with it for the whole series. Both books were made into movies with Paul Newman, although they changed Archer’s name to Harper. I need to check those out. I’m reading almost all serialized fiction right now. I’m starting the Easy Rawlins series and have a Smiley and Samson novel queued up. Then there’s Game of Thrones book four and probably another Robicheaux adventure. I just don’t feel like branching out. I’m busy at work and throwing in some occasional non-fiction, so I’m not going to be adventurous with my fiction.