Posts Tagged ‘Ross Macdonald’

Ross Macdonald Crimezine Black Money

First edition of Ross Macdonald’s Black Money

As Crimezine exclusively revealed several months ago Hollyweird kook-mongers the Coen brothers are turning Ross Macdonald’s 1965 murder mystery Black Money into box office big-bucks. And about time too we hear you shout.

Those familiar with the work of Ross Macdonald will realize immediately the depth of ambition required to batter one of his deliciously enigmatic and smoothly circuitous books into a square-peg slab of cinematography. How will it be possible?

Macdonald’s writing was perhaps so influential because of its ethereal and compelling nature. Delightful similes drip from every paragraph. Learned allusions and literary in jokes lead to smarty-panted chortles and cloth-brained internet trawls—so the rest of us can dig what the great man was rattling on about. Because Ross Macdonald was not only a great writer—he was also a big-league brain-box and if readers were too goddamned stupid to keep up, they would have to rush back to the book store to dig out the latest pulp by Mickey Spillane or John Creasy.

Chandleresque is a word perhaps fist coined for the work of Ross Macdonald. Indeed his first novels were so slavishly Chandleresque that the owlish éminence grise of crime fiction managed to rouse himself momentarily from a drunken puddle on his kitchen floor to grumble with much ill-humor, that mild-mannered Macdonald was, “No sort of writer at all”.

Black Money, Ross MacDonald, Crimezine

Modern Black Lizard issue of Ross Macdonald’s Black Money

Unlike Chandler however, Macdonald had a monstrous work ethic and managed within his lifetime [He died in 1983] to channel out a glorious sub-genre of SoCal detective fiction that has been widely influential. Private eye Lew Archer is the thinking mans Marlowe, Sam Spade sans the Bogartian bluster. Archer is wry and relentless, a man consumed to discover the truth, no matter what it takes.

Black Money sees Archer summoned to the fictional town Montevista. [Which may or may not be La Jolla, a fact that must have rankled with local resident Chandler] to discover why the lithesome love interest of portly trust-fund toff Peter Jamieson prefers the company of a roguish Frenchie-foreigner named Martel.

It would seem like an open and shut case, as aside from cold hard cash, it would appear that whining windbag Jamieson doesn’t have much to offer a young woman of beauty and ambition. But wouldn’t you just know it—as soon as Archer arrives, the bodies start falling thick and fast. Yerk alors, mes amis!

The title has wide metaphorical implications, as you would perhaps expect with a novel by Ross Macdonald. But seeing as you are so desperate to know, it wouldn’t be too much of a spoiler to reveal that IRS-free Vegas skim money is involved.

In Black Money, as with all Archer novels, there is a confluence of greed and murder where great wealth meets endless waters of the Pacific Ocean. But it doesn’t end there. Hell no. This is a tale of twisted lust and fragile innocence turned cold and vampiric. Meet a parade of swinishness and Machiavellian nastiness the like of which you have never witnessed—everyone Archer encounters has an angle and a certain cold ugliness. The twists and turns are endless. Macdonald likes to change character names half way through—he likes to kill off lead characters and have us believe others are important when they are not. When it comes to convoluted ingenuity and twisted reasoning, Ross Macdonald is an unparalleled master of the genre.

ROss MacDonald Black Money The Coen, Brothers, Crimezine

Hollyweird Kooksters the Coen Brothers are dealing with Black Money

So what will the Cohn brothers make of all this bad craziness? Well, their off-the-wall humor and non-linear style is well suited to the work of Ross Macdonald. Joel Silver is set to produce the movie and the valiant escapade is being backed by [Black Money?] from Warner Brothers. So will Steve Buscemi and John Goodman be involved? Will Gorgeous George Clooney play Archer? Watch this space Crimeziners Because Crimezine is right on the Black Money every time.

 

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Crimezine The Galton Case.

Ross MacDonald The Galton Case

California Crime writing legend Ross Macdonald has frequently been compared to Chandler, Hammett, and James M. Cain. A darling of crime writers and readers of discernment, Macdonald’s prowess as a crime writer has been highly influential down the years.

But there are others who consider his work difficult, and rather intellectually superior for their tastes, preferring instead the work of others such as the similarly named John D. MacDonald. [Of Travis McGee fame]. The startling reputations of both writers are unassailable. But of all the Macdonald’s writing in the crime genre—Ross Macdonald can be unquestioningly called, The thinking mans crime writer.

The Galton Case is a densely plotted psychological detective mystery featuring Macdonald’s hardboiled private eye Lew Archer. Macdonald once said it was his favorite novel, the best he ever wrote. Which is certainly saying something as he wrote some of the most influential and highly readable detective fiction of the 1950s and 1960s, a time when detective fiction was big news.

Macdonald’s work is highly complex and yet startlingly concise. At just under 240 pages The Galton Case is a cunningly distilled masterpiece. Most modern novelists are pushed to devise such swirling and mysterious conspiracies at anything under 400 pages. The Galton Case also contains some startlingly beautiful language, that is far subtler than Chandler’s frontal assault to the senses; less brutally hardboiled than the work of Hammett, and more thoughtfully intellectual that the gritty nastiness of the Cain oeuvre.

—How intellectual, we hear you ask. Well, there is reference to Rimbaud’s theory of the violation of the senses; there are also many subtly pertinent allusions to Greek myths layered deeply inside the kind of murderously devious plot that will send your head spinning.

The Galton Case kicks off in the fictional California town of Santa Teresa, (A thinly disguised Santa Barbara) when the aging and incredibly wealthy Mrs. Galton hires Archer to find her long lost son. But, what seems at first like a staggeringly impossible missing-persons case quickly evolves into a murderous trail into the past, where everything we understand as real quickly melts away into the swirling mists of the Pacific. Deep delve into the mysterious past, discover beat poetry, gangsters, swindlers and strong-arm racketeers. Discover also, the depths of human frailty and a morally complex imbroglio of family life gone horribly and irrevocably awry.

Written in 1959 The Galton Case is charmingly old fashioned in many respects, but the wit and the intelligence of Ross Macdonald’s writing will remain for many long years to come. You too can be a part of it Crimeziners. Check out The Galton Case. Tell them Crimezine sent you..

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Ross-macdonald The Chill

Knopf first edition of The Chill value $175

Where were you in ’63 Crimeziners? Two Beatles albums, two Bond films, and one dead president, all in the same year. The swinging sixties were kicking into overdrive, as was the Vietnam War. But what’ this? A new bestselling novel by noir crime legend Ross Macdonald?

That’s right, it really is that long ago since Ross Macdonald released his legendary noir novel The Chill. But why is it a novel that everyone is still talking about after all this time?

Reading The Chill you would have no idea it was written in the swinging sixties. This novel could almost have been set in the thirties or forties, when the gods of noir like Hammett, Chandler and Cain still ruled the earth, or more accurately—every bar west of Hollyweird Boulevard.

The novel concerns an earnest newlywed Alex Kincaid, whose lovely young wife has run out on him after just a few short hours of marriage. Poor Alex, he’s highly strung, who wouldn’t be under such circumstances? But the high wired intensity of the Kinkaid’s fledging relationship is a throwback to a different age, which seems curious when one takes this novel in it’s historical context..

Enter Lew Archer, the thinking man’s private eye.

Macdonald mainstay Lew Archer is a man of mystery. He has no assistants, amusing relations, or loveable pets, the methods by which so many authors introduce humanity to their protagonist. The novelty of Lew Archer is that he is a foil for the plot it’s self, a unique attribute that distinguishes the stories of Macdonald from so many pretenders to the throne of noir mystery.

Archer is no hard-drinking wise guy, like Sam Spade or Marlowe. The byzantine plot of The Chill is certainly Chandleresque in its complexity however. And it is here we encounter Macdonald’s other obsessions, the impact of past on present and the psychological dynamics of the family, and in particular, the dangerous results of a wronged childhood.

Then of course there is Macdonald’s allusion throughout this novel, to Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner [Macdonald wrote a phd thesis on this subject] Now wake up at the back there Crimeziners, you do not have to have actually read this great literary poem to understand The Chill, but it certainly adds to the fun. And good old Ross even throws in snatches of WB Yates to add to the excitement, you lucky people.

Ross Macdonald and the Chill, more than any other book he wrote, mark the demarcation line between intellectually sophisticated crime fiction of writers such as Kellerman, Crais and John Connelly and the brass knuckle cliché of the Micky Spillane school. This is why Ross Macdonald  is a Crimezine legend.

Indeed, big bucks psychologist Jonathan Kellerman claims he became a crime writer on the strength of a pile of Ross Macdonald novels he discovered in a bargain bin at a Beverly Hills thrift store.  Now you know where those Oedipal nightmares came from. So how does it all end I hear you ask— and the answer is—very unexpectedly, but that is the genius of Ross Macdonald.

Ross-Macdonald-biography

Ross Macdonald a biography

Crimeziners who are interested in hardboiled noir from Southern California will no doubt have read the work of Ross Macdonald. Widely touted as a successor to Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and James M. Cain, Macdonald—or Ken Millar as he was known by everyone, apart from the reading public was a more complex and experimental writer than the other legends of noir.

Early Macdonald novels, such as The Moving Target (1949) and The Drowning Pool (1950) were closely fashioned on the Chandler oeuvre, so closely fashioned in fact that Chandler denounced Millar in a very public manner, an unpleasantness that was to stay with the sensitive Millar for much of his career.

But Millar and his hardboiled protagonist Lew Archer quickly evolved, moving into territory Chandler et al could only have dreamed of. Could you imagine Marlowe dealing with the subject of environmentalism for example?

Millar had a difficult early life that could have so easily led to a career of crime, instead he conquered his disadvantages and headed for The University of Michigan where he achieved a Phd in literature.

Millar’s Phd thesis was on literary bad boy Samuel Rime of the Ancient Mariner Coleridge, an influence he drew on heavily in novels such as The Chill (1964). For many readers Millar’s erudite use of allusion is one of the many joys of his writing. From modern psychology, to Greek Tragedy the poetry of Millar’s work was clear for all to see. Real tragedy in the shape of his tearaway teenage daughter also became a repeated influence on his work. As did the fictional California town of Santa Teresa [Based on Millar’s hometown Santa Barbara]

Tom Nolan’s biography of Millar/Macdonald is methodical and far reaching, if you want to know the astonishing reality of this mans upbringing, it is here in detail. If you want to discover how the murderous psychological trauma caused by his daughters hit and run boozing affected his writing, that is here too, in glorious unwashed detail. We also find out about the frankly bizarre relationship Millar had with wife, crime writer Margret Millar.

When the intellectual athlete Millar tragically lost his mental faculties to Alzheimer’s disease Margret Millar utters the heartless line, “of course I poisoned the dogs, I had to…’ Millar’s wife was a cold sort, neurotic and withdrawn one minute party mad the next, in a way that might suggest bipolar disorder, as it is so charmingly called these days. But one gets the impression Ken could be difficult too, if this book is to believed, so perhaps the Millar’s were well suited to each others company after all.

Whatever the verdict, the details of their marriage provide a fascinating read.The story of Ross Macdonald, as told by Tom Nolan is in turns both tragic and uplifting, it offers very many real insights into the life of a charming and intelligent man who was and still continues to be a crimewriter’s crimewriter.