Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Further Investigations

The Drowning Pool (Lew Archer #2) (1950) by Ross Macdonald (pen-name of Kenneth Millar): The second Lew Archer detective novel presents a twisty, psychologically weighted mystery for PI Archer to solve -- and that's before the bodies start piling up. Hired to discover who's blackmailing a Southern California heiress, Archer soon finds that the blackmail is just the beginning. Of vengeance? Of business shenanigans? Of old family grievances? Well, that's what Archer has to discover before everyone ends up dead. 

Ross Macdonald's writing is crisp and nuanced, mixing often elegant metaphors with clear and straightforward attention to making the mechanics of a complicated plot seem inevitable. Archer is already a rueful, committed PI at this point, and his first-person narration can alternatedly sing and sear with insight and pithy observations. Adapted in the 1960's into a movie starring Paul Newman. Recommended.

I love this cover
The Far Side of the Dollar ((Lew Archer #12) (1964) by Ross Macdonald (pen-name of Kenneth Millar): About as dark as the always dark Lew Archer hardboiled-detective novels get, all of it under those sunny Southern California skies. A rebellious teen-aged boy (hey, it's the 1960's) escapes from the psychiatric facility/ reform school his parents have just committed him to. Archer is called in, and soon descends into the underbelly of the family's upper-class American dream. Memorable characters and a fascinatingly twisted path of murders make this Archer novel especially good. Highly recommended

The Sentry: A Joe Pike Novel  (2012) by Robert Crais: Crais takes Joe Pike, sometime-second-banana to his other Southern California PI hero Elvis Cole, out for a mostly-solo spin. A random stop by Pike to check his Jeep's tire pressure leads him, chaos-theory style, into a rapidly escalating series of events centered around an imperiled LA sandwich-shop owner and his niece. Elvis Cole shows up to help Pike solve the mysteries that seem to keep erupting as the novel hurtles along, but much of The Sentry devotes itself to a third-person examination of Pike's thoughts and actions. 

As Pike is pretty much a hyper-competent pulp hero, one's interest in the novel depends on how much one likes hyper-competent pulp heroes. I do, but Pike's abilities tend to pull the Cole novels out of the realms of believability when he's just a supporting character. As the lead, he might as well be Doc Savage's occasionally melancholy grandson. The plot hums and whirs like a beautifully constructed machine, and the plot twists are about as twisty as they can get without becoming self-parodic. As seems to be a trope in later novels involving Elvis Cole, at least one female police detective dies. Hmm. An enjoyable entertainment. Recommended.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like I need to re-commit to Ross MacDonald! And so many good covers...