Ross Macdonald (1915-1983)

descargaRoss Macdonald is the pseudonym of American-Canadian writer of mystery fiction and detective fiction Kenneth Millar (1915 – 1983). Born in Los Gatos, California, in the San Francisco Bay area, in 1915, Millar was raised in his parents’ native Canada, where he started college. There he met and married the former Margaret Sturm in 1938. He began his career writing stories for pulp magazines. While doing graduate study at the University of Michigan, he completed his first novel, The Dark Storm, in 1944. At this time, he wrote under the name John Macdonald, in order to avoid confusion with his wife, who was achieving her own success writing as Margaret Millar. He then changed briefly to John Ross Macdonald before settling on Ross Macdonald, in order to avoid mixups with contemporary John D. MacDonald. After serving at sea as a naval communications officer from 1944-46, he returned to Michigan, where he obtained his PhD degree in 1951.

Macdonald first introduced the popular detective Lew Archer, the tough but humane private eye who would inhabit some twenty of his novels, in The Moving Target in 1949. Lew Archer derives his name from Sam Spade’s partner Miles Archer, and from Lew Wallace, author of Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ. This novel would become the basis for the 1966 Paul Newman film, Harper. In the early 1950s, he returned to California, settling for some thirty years in Santa Barbara, the area where most of his books were set. (Macdonald’s fictional name for Santa Barbara was Santa Teresa; this “pseudonym” for the town was subsequently resurrected by Sue Grafton, whose “alphabet novels” are also set in Santa Barbara.) The very successful Lew Archer series, including bestsellers The Goodbye Look, The Underground Man, and Sleeping Beauty, concluded with The Blue Hammer in 1976.

Heir to Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler as the master of American “hard boiled” mysteries, his writing built on the pithy style of his predecessors by adding psychological depth and insights into the motivations of his characters. Macdonald’s plots were complicated, and often turned on Archer’s unearthing family secrets of his clients and of the criminals who victimized them. Even his regular readers seldom saw a Macdonald denouement coming. Macdonald’s writing was hailed by genre fans and literary critics alike. Author William Golding called his works “the finest series of detective novels ever written by an American author”. He died in Santa Barbara in 1983. (Source: Golden Age of Detection Wiki)

Lew Archer novels: The Moving Target (1949), The Drowning Pool (1950), The Way Some People Die (1951), The Ivory Grin aka Marked for Murder (1952), Find a Victim (1954), The Barbarous Coast (1956), The Doomsters (1958), The Galton Case (1959), The Wycherly Woman (1961), The Zebra Striped Hearse (1962), The Chill (1964), The Far Side of the Dollar (1965), Black Money (1966), The Instant Enemy (1968), The Goodbye Look (1969), The Underground Man (1971), Sleeping Beauty (1973) and The Blue Hammer (1976).

Other novels: Meet Me at the Morgue aka Experience With Evil (1954) and The Ferguson Affair (1960).

Ross Macdonald’s twenty-four novels fall fairly neatly into three groups: Those in which Lew Archer does not appear form a distinct group, and the Archer series itself, which may be separated into two periods. His first four books, The Dark Tunnel, Trouble Follows Me, Blue City, and The Three Roads, together with two later works, Meet Me at the Morgue and The Ferguson Affair, do not feature Lew Archer. These six novels, especially the first three, are rather typical treatments of wartime espionage or political corruption and are primarily of interest to the extent that they prefigure the concerns of later work. The first six Archer books The Moving Target, The Drowning Pool, The Way Some People Die, The Ivory Grin, Find a Victim, and The Barbarous Coast, introduce and refine the character of Archer, build the society and geography of California into important thematic elements, and feature increasingly complex plots, with multiple murders and plot lines. The next twelve Archer novels constitutes Macdonald’s major achievement. (Source: Analysis of Ross Macdonald’s novels)

Further reading:

After reading the following introduction to The Ferguson Affair, as you might imagine, I have to choose this book and include it on my TBR shelf

Between 1949 and 1976, Ross Macdonald published eighteen detective novels with Lew Archer and only two without him, the wonderfully alliterative Meet Me at the Morgue (1953) and the extremely blandly titled The Ferguson Affair (1960). Though these latter two novels now have been reprinted, like all the Archers, in paperback by the laudable Black Lizard, they get much less attention than the Archer books. I know people like series detectives, but I’ve never felt Lew Archer was that interesting, considered purely as a character. As a conduit for Ross Macdonald’s words and ideas, yes, he is quite interesting, but then so is Bill Gunnarson, the defense attorney investigator in The Ferguson Affair. Frankly, I could not tell the two men apart, really, except that Gunnarson is married, happily, to a wife about to give birth to their child when the novel begins. Gunnarson gets involved in “the Ferguson affair” through a new client of his, a young nurse arrested for selling stolen jewelry.  Through a former–she says–boyfriend the woman seems to be linked to a burglary ring, but is she really innocent?
From this simple enough beginning Gunnarson soon finds himself enmeshed, along with the reader, in a net of criminal circumstances of impressive intricacy. I really have to hand it to Macdonald for so beautifully managing such a complicated plot.  As things develop there are really two mysteries and you’ll be clever indeed if you manage to completely solve even one of them before the author reveals all. (The Passing Tramp)


(Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets, LLC. Alfred A. Knopf (USA), 1960)


(Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets, LLC. Collins The Crime Club (UK), 1961)

Book Description: It was a long way from the million-dollar Foothill Club to Pelly Street, where grudges were settled in blood and Spanish and a stolen diamond ring landed a girl in jail.  Defense lawyer Bill Gunnarson was making the trip—fast.  He already knew a kidnapping at the club was tied to the girl’s hot rock, and he suspected that a missing Hollywood starlet was the key to a busy crime ring.  But while Gunnarson made his way through a storm of deception, money, drugs, and passions, he couldn’t guess how some big shots and small-timers would all end up with murder in common… (Penguin Random House).

The Ferguson Affair has been reviewed, among others at The Passing Tramp.

Milward Kennedy (1894 – 1968)

OIP (1)Aka John Frederick Burke, Jonathan Burke, Owen Burke, Robert Milward Burke, Evelyn Elder, Harriet Esmond, John Frederick, Jonathan George, Joanna Jones, Sara Morris, Martin Sands. Milward Rodon Kennedy Burge (21 June 1894 – 1968) was an English civil servant, journalist, crime writer and literary critic. He was educated at Winchester College and New College, Oxford. He served with British Military Intelligence in World War I and then worked for the International Labor Office and the Egyptian government. He was London editor of the Empire Digest and reviewed mystery fiction for The Sunday Times and The Guardian. He retired in the 1960s to West Sussex. Burge married Georgina Lee in 1921 and in 1926 after her death married Eveline Schrieber Billiat in 1926. Kennedy specialised in police mysteries, but also wrote about the adventures of Sir George Bull, a professional private investigator. He also collaborated with other members of The Detection Club on The Floating Admiral and Ask a Policeman. His series characters are Sir George Bull and Inspector Cornford.

Bibliography: The Bleston Mystery with A. G. Macdonell (1928), The Corpse on the Mat aka Man who Rang the Bell (1929), Corpse Guard Parade (1929), Half Mast Murder (1930), Death in a Deck-Chair (1930), Death to the Rescue (1931), The Floating Admiral with members of The Detection Club (1931), The Murderer of Sleep (1932), Bull’s Eye (1933), Ask a Policeman with members of The Detection Club (1933), Corpse in Cold Storage (1934), Poison in the Parish (1935), Sic Transit Gloria aka Scornful Corpse (1936), I’ll be Judge, I’ll be Jury (1937), It Began in New York (1943), Escape to Quebec (1946) and The Top Boot (1950)
As Evelyn Elder: Murder in Black and White (1931), Angel in the Case (1932) and Two’s Company (1952)

Martin Edwards’ articles on Milward Kennedy are at ‘Do You Write Under Your Own Name?’.

Articles on Milward Kennedy at Mystery File.

JJ’s article on Evelyn Elder at The Invisible Event.


(Source: Facsimile Dusk Jackets, LLC. Doubleday The Crime Club (USA), 1930)

Published in 1930, it is a country house murder case, boasting three plans, including one of the octagonal summer house in which Professor Paley, an expert on the subject of international relations, is found stabbed to death. The summer house is locked, but Superintendent Guest soon establishes that the victim was murdered, and the ‘locked room’ element of the story is quite minor. The flag above the summer house is flying at half-mast – but why? The explanation for this aspect of the story is a pretty good one. (Martin Edwards)

Summary: Professor Paley, an important political figure and writer, who doesn’t believe in war and therefore has few friends, fails to make it to tea one afternoon. This, it transpires, is not because he has been absorbed in writing as usual, but because he has been fatally stabbed. The key is inside the room and the door is locked – and yet it quickly becomes clear that this isn’t suicide. How did the killer do it? Is the motive political or personal? And why is almost everybody in the household behaving rather suspiciously? Superintendent Guest is the stolid investigator, but underneath his calm exterior he is inwardly perturbed by the high-profile of the case, the political and literary arena into which he is unwillingly thrust (and without the appropriate gentlemanly attire) and the fact that pressure is being brought for Scotland Yard to swoop in and claim the honours; not to mention the uncooperativeness of the suspects and the mystery of the vanishing man with a highly suspicious beard.

Half-Mast Murder has been reviewed, among others, at ‘Do You Write Under Your Own Name?’

Fredric Brown (1906-1972)

fredric_brownFredric Brown was born in Cincinnati in 1906, the son of a newspaperman. Brown’s parents died while he was in high school; he graduated in 1922 and afterwards found work in an office, an experience that would provide the basis for his 1958 novel The Office. He went on to attend Hanover College and the University of Cincinnati and married his first wife Helen in 1929; they would have two sons, James and Linn. During the early 1930s, times were tough and Brown took what jobs he could get, mostly office work, but also various jobs as a dishwasher, busboy and detective. Around this time, he joined the Milwaukee Allied Authors club and started writing, primarily humorous short stories. In 1937 he took a position as proofreader for the Milwaukee Journal, a post he would hold until 1945.

He sold his first short story “Monday’s Off Night” in 1937 but it wasn’t until the next year when his short story “The Moon For A Nickel” was published in Street & Smith’s Detective Story Magazine that he took up writing full-time, and by the early 1940s he was selling hundreds of stories to the detective and science fiction pulp magazines. His first published novel was Mitkey Astromouse in 1941 but his second novel, The Fabulous Clipjoint was the story that launched his career. The Fabulous Clipjoint was published in 1947 by Dutton after being rejected by twelve other publishers; it was a substantial success, winning the Edgar Award for best first mystery novel in 1948. The book introduced Ed Hunter and his uncle Ambrose; the pair would feature in six further Brown novels. Their combination of youth and experience make a strong pairing with unique dynamics that has rarely been matched since. Several other successes followed: What Mad Universe (1949), a classic of science fiction, The Screaming Mimi (1949), which was adapted as a film starring Anita Ekberg, and Here Comes a Candle (1950), an experimental novel told in a variety of alternating media formats. Brown would continue to write prolifically throughout the 1950s, primarily in the mystery and science fiction genres.

By the early 1960s, Brown, who had never enjoyed robust health, found his health in serious decline, and his output slowed. Brown and his family had lived in Tucson, Arizona for some years at the advice of his doctors, but in 1961, he moved to Hollywood to write screenplays. However, he would return to Tucson in 1963; his last novel was published that year, and by that time he could hardly write because of illness. He died in 1972 at age 65 after suffering terribly from emphysema. (Source: Valancourt Books)

The subsequent novels in the Ed and Am Hunter series are The Dead Ringer (1948), The Bloody Moonlight (1949), Compliments Of A Fiend (1950), Death Has Many Doors (1951), The Late Lamented (1959) and Mrs Murphy’s Underpants (1963). Apart from the Ed and Am Hunter series, Fredric Brown went on to write 16 other crime novels, hardboiled and otherwise. Among the best of these were The Screaming Mimi (1949), Night of the Jabberwock (1950), Knock Three-One-Two (1959) and The Deep End (1952).

Brown works have been periodically reprinted and he has a worldwide fan base, most notably in the U.S. and Europe, and especially in France, where there have been several recent movie adaptations of his work. He also remains popular in Japan.

In 1984, Dennis McMillan began a 20 volume project in which all of Fredric Brown’s best detective short stories that had never before been reprinted were published. These books have since become extremely sought after by fans of Fredric Brown with values skyrocketing. The titles of some of these volumes are indicative of the wit in which Brown chose some of his story titles, to whit, Thirty Corpses Every Thursday, Pardon My Ghoulish Laughter, The Gibbering Night and Three Corpse Parlay.

There is enough of Fredric Brown’s mystery work out there to keep fans and collectors searching for many years. But the real pleasure is in the reading and Fredric Brown had an ability to surprise his readers completely with some of the most unexpected endings imaginable. (Several sources and The Mystery Genius of Fredric Brown by Damien Gay)

Further reading:

Chicago’s own Ed and Am Hunter are one of the best, and most endearing and beloved private eye teams in the genre, and Fredric Brown’s one of the best writers to ever grace the genre, so what’s not to like? Young, brash, ambitious, idealistic Ed Hunter and his uncle Am, a cheerful, chubby, streetwise ex-carny with a taste for poker, run the Hunter and Hunter Detective Agency in Chicago and it’s often Ed, wearing his heart on his sleeve, who ends up falling head over heels for some “skirt”, who leads them into some of the most entertaining, and offbeat, capers in detective fiction. The undisputed highlight of the series and a stone-cold classic of the P.I. genre is definitely the one that kicked off the series: The Fabulous Clipjoint, an alternately heart-warming and darkly grim meditation on obsession, coming-of-age and the ensuing weight of maturity. Bill Pronzin and Marcia Muller referred to it, in 1001 Midnights: The Aficiondo’s Guide to Mystery and Detective Fiction (New York: Arbor House, 1986), as “unquestionably more than just another hard-boiled detective tale.” And he’s right. It won an Edgar for Best First Novel, but awards seem trivial compared to the emotional punch that this book packs. Not that Brown was some literary joykill — he also possessed one of the hinkiest senses of humour in the genre. He once wrote a book called Murder Can Be Fun, and in the Ed and Am series, he went about proving it. (Source: The New Thrilling Detective Web Site).


(Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC. E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc. (USA), 1947)

From Wikipedia: The Fabulous Clipjoint, first published in book form in 1947 (originally published under the title Dead Man’s Indemnity in Mystery Book Magazine, April 1946), is the first full-length novel by writer Fredric Brown, who had honed his craft by publishing hundreds of short stories in the pulp magazines of the day. The Fabulous Clipjoint is also the first of seven detective novels featuring the nephew/uncle team of Ed and Am Hunter. The Fabulous Clipjoint, like most of Brown’s works, is notable for its solid craftsmanship, atmosphere, and suspense.

Book Description: Ed Hunter is eighteen, and he isn’t happy. He doesn’t want to end up like his father, a linotype operator and a drunk, married to a harridan, with a harridan-in-training stepdaughter. Ed wants out, he wants to live, he wants to see the world before it’s too late. Then his father doesn’t come home one night, and Ed finds out how good he had it. The bulk of the book has Ed teaming up with Uncle Ambrose, a former carny worker, and trying to find out who killed Ed’s dad. But the title is as much a coming-of-age tale as it is a pulp. (Source: Goodreads)

Vice and murder prowl Chicago–and one man hunts a killer through the glittering Gold Coast and seamy back alleys! Edgar Award Winner for Best First Novel (1948). (Source: The Black Cat Wildside Press LLC).

The Fabulous Clipjoint has been reviewed, among others, at Mystery File.

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