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.

Review: The Drowning Pool (1950) by Ross Macdonald

Esta entrada es bilingüe, para ver la versión en castellano desplazarse hacia abajo

Penguin Classics, 2012. Book format: Paperback edition. First published 1950. ISBN: 978 0 141 19662 6. Pages 272. With an Introduction by John Banville


The Drowning Pool begins in classic hardboiled manner with a damsel in distress, visiting a private investigator. The woman in question, Mrs Maude Slocum wants to hire Lew Archer in connection with an anonymous letter, addressed to her husband, that she has intercepted. A letter warning him about the amorous activities of his wife, that she neither confirms nor denies. Particularly, all she wants is that Archer may find a way to stop the sending of these letters. Above all, her desire is to avoid a possible divorce, for her daughter’s sake. A divorce her husband won’t be willing to request, if not by the more than probable insistence of her mother-in-law. After all, she has the total control over the family fortune. Archer finally accepts the job, even if forced to work in a vacuum, since he’s not allowed to have any contact with the Slocums or with their close friends. But one night, Mrs Olivia Slocum, the family matriarch, is found drowned in her swimming pool. Clearly she has been murdered. And all suspicions fall over the family chauffeur, a handsome man by whom, Miss Cathy Slocum, the teenage daughter, feels very attracted.

The story follows some unexpected paths that, in my opinion, depart excessively from the main plot until, it returns to the main issue. However, the ending arrives quite unexpectedly, somewhat abruptly. For this reason the reader may feel rather disappointed. Nevertheless, as John Banville writes in the Introduction:

(Ross Macdonald) A direct heir of Hammett and Chandler, and a conscious stylist, he understood that an author’s intentions are always coerced by the insinuative power of language, and the fiction achieves its strongest effects, not through discursiveness but by way of nuance: not what is said, but how it is said. One only has to notice the ingenuity and subtlety with which the theme of water trickles throughout the narrative of The Drowning Pool to know that here we are in the hands of an artist.

For all his attention to style and nuance, Macdonald’s plots are intricate, ingenious and tight. What drives his stories, though, is not the urge to tantalize the reader with crossword-puzzle cleverness –Chandler: ‘I don’t care who conked Sir Mortimer with the poker’ – but by the motivations, squalid, self-serving and frequently criminal, of his characters, those `plausible people in plausible circumstances’.

Ross Macdonald is the main pseudonym that was used by Kenneth Millar. Born near San Francisco in 1915 and raised in Ontario, Millar returned to the U.S. as a young man and published his first novel in 1944. He is best known for his series of hardboiled novels set in southern California and featuring private detective Lew Archer. A character who, initially, started out very similar to Philip Marlowe, although he would diverge later on. The first two novels in the series The Moving Target (1949) and The Drowning Pool (1950) were adapted to the cinema with Paul Newman in the role of Lew Archer, renamed Lew Harper in the screen. My review of The Moving Target is here. He served as the president of the Mystery Writers of America and was awarded their Grand Master Award as well as the Mystery Writers of Great Britain’s Gold Dagger Award.  He died in 1983.

My long term goal, with no time limit, is to read the eighteen novels in the series in chronological order.

My rating: B (I really liked it)

The Drowning Pool has been reviewed at Mysteries in Paradise, Tipping my Fedora, Kevin’s Corner, the crime segments, and At the Scene of the Crime, among others

Penguin Modern Classics publicity page

Vintage Crime/Black Lizard publicity page

Lew Archer at The Thrilling Detective Web site 

Ross Macdonald at Detnovel 

Ross Macdonald Obituary at The New York Times

Tobias Jones on the crime novels of Ross Macdonald

The Greatest Authors of All Times: The Macdonald case 


La piscina de los ahogados de Ross Macdonald

La piscina de los ahogados comienza a la manera de las clásicas novelas hardboiled con una dama en apuros, visitando a un investigador privado. La mujer en cuestión, la señora Maude Slocum quiere contratar a Lew Archer en relación con una carta anónima dirigida a su marido que ha interceptado. Una carta advirtiéndole sobre las actividades amorosas de su esposa, que ella ni confirma ni niega. En particular, todo lo que quiere es que Archer pueda encontrar una manera de detener el envío de estas cartas. Por encima de todo, su deseo es evitar un posible divorcio, por el bien de su hija. Un divorcio que su marido no va a estar dispuesto a solicitar, a no ser por la más que probable insistencia de su suegra. Después de todo, ella tiene el control total de la fortuna de la familia. Archer finalmente acepta el trabajo, incluso si se ve obligado a trabajar en un vacío, ya que no le está permitido tener ningún contacto con los Slocums o con sus amistades. Pero una noche, la señora Olivia Slocum, la matriarca de la familia, aparece ahogada en su piscina. Es evidente que ha sido asesinada. Y todas las sospechas recaen sobre el chofer de la familia, un hombre apuesto por quién, la señorita Cathy Slocum, la hija adolescente, se siente muy atraída.

La historia continúa por algunos caminos inesperados que, en mi opinión, se alejan demasiado de la trama principal, hasta que regresa a la cuestión principal. Sin embargo, el final llega de manera inesperada, un tanto abruptamente. Por esta razón, el lector puede sentirse un poco decepcionado. Sin embargo, como escribe John Banville en la Introducción:

(Ross Macdonald) Un heredero directo de Hammett y Chandler, y un deliberado estilista, entendía que los propósitos de un autor siempre están forzados por el poder de insinuación del lenguaje, y la ficción consigue sus efectos más fuertes, no a través del discurso, sino por medio de la matización: no lo que se dice, sino cómo se dice. Uno sólo tiene que observar el ingenio y la sutileza con el que el tema del agua fluye a lo largo de la narración de La piscina de los ahogados para saber que aquí nos encontramos en manos de un artista.

Por toda su atención al estilo y al matiz, los argumentos de Macdonald resultan intrincados, ingeniosos y ajustados. Lo que anima sus historias, sin embargo, no es el deseo de atormentar al lector con sagaces crucigramas, Chandler: “Me trae sin cuidado quien mató a Sir Mortimer con el atizador”, sino las motivaciones, miserables, interesadas, y con frecuencia delictivas, de sus personajes, aquellas “personas creíbles en circunstancias creíbles”.

Ross Macdonald es el principal seudónimo utilizado por Kenneth Millar. Nacido cerca de San Francisco en 1915 y criado en Ontario, Millar regresó a los EE.UU. en su juventud y publicó su primera novela en 1944. Es más conocido por su serie de novelas hadrboiled que se desarrollan en el sur de California y que están protagonizadas por el detective privado Lew Archer. Un personaje que, en un principio, empezó siendo muy similar a Philip Marlowe, aunque se apartaría de él más adelante. Las dos primeras novelas de la serie El blanco móvil (1949) y La piscina de los ahogados (1950) fueron adaptadas al cine con Paul Newman en el papel de Lew Archer, llanado Lew Harper en la pantalla. Mi reseña de El blanco móvil está aquí. Fué presidente de los Mystery Writers of America y fue galardonado con el premio de Gran Maestro, así como con la Daga de Oro que otorga la asociación de escritores de misterio de la Gran Bretaña. Murió en 1983.

Mi objetivo a largo plazo, sin límite de tiempo, es leer las dieciocho novelas de la serie en orden cronológico.

Mi valoración: B (Me gustó mucho)

Ver la reseña de Un cadaver en mi blog  

RBA Libros

Review: The Moving Target, by Ross Macdonald

Esta entrada es bilingüe, desplazarse hacia abajo para ver la versión en castellano

Originally published in hardcover in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York, in 1949. My edition Vintage crime/Black Lizard, 1998. 246 pages. ISBN: 9-780375-70146-7.

Ross Macdonald, the pseudonym of Kenneth Millar (1915 – 1983), is reckoned as one of the big three American hard-boiled novelists along with Dashiell Hammett (1894 – 1961) and Raymond Chandler (1888 – 1959) . When he died in 1983, the New York Times wrote that he was the most highly regarded crime-fiction writer in America. William Goldman called his Lew Archer-novels ‘the finest series of detective novels ever written by an American’.

Ross Macdonald wrote his fifth novel with the aim of becoming a detective series featuring a PI called Lew Archer. The name pays homage to Dashiell Hammett, ‘Miles Archer’ is Sam Spade’s murdered partner in The Maltese Falcon, and to the author of Ben-Hur, Lew Wallace. Although Lew Archer’s character was first introduced in a short story published in 1944, Find the Woman. The title of the manuscript was The Snatch, but it was changed to The Moving Target before publishing in 1949 under the pseudonym of ‘John Macdonald’, his father’s first and middle names. The pseudonym was either used to prevent any confusing with his wife, who wrote as Margaret Millar, or to protect his reputation, he wanted to become a ‘literary’ writer. Then, to distinguish himself from fellow writer John D. MacDonald, he was ‘John Ross Macdonald’. Finally he was just ‘Ross Macdonald’, the name under which he became known internationally.

In The Moving Target Macdonald created the fictional city of Santa Teresa a version of Santa Barbara, California. In the 1980s, Sue Grafton began using Santa Teresa as the setting for her novels featuring Kinsey Millhone, in a tribute to Macdonald. The Moving Target became the basis of Harper, a 1966 film written by William Goldman, starring Paul Newman.

In the first chapter, Lew Archer is hired by Mrs Sampson, a handsome woman, to find her husband, an oil tycoon, twenty years her senior. Ralph Sampson flew to Los Angeles  from Las Vegas yesterday afternoon in his private plane with his pilot Alan Taggert. He left Burbank airport in a black limousine and hasn’t been seen since. Mrs Sampson, confined to a wheelchair as a consequence of a horse riding accident, wants to find her husband before it is too late. Since the loss of his only son during the war, Mr Sampson drinks too much. He loses his inhibitions when he drinks.

“About sex?”
“All men do, don’t they? But that is not what concerns me. He loses his inhibitions about money. He tied one on a few months ago and gave away a mountain. “
“A mountain?”
“Complete with hunting-lodge.”
“Did he give it to a woman?”
“I almost wish he had. He gave it to a man, But it’s not what you’re thinking. A Los Angeles holy man with a long gray beard.”

During the investigation Archer will come across a wide variety of characters. Sampson’s pilot Alan Taggert; Miranda Sampson, Mrs Sampson’s twenty-one year old stepdaughter; Albert Graves, one of Ralph’s lawyers and the man who recommended Archer to Mrs Sampson; Fay Estabrook a fading actress; Betty Fraley, a piano player; Dwight Troy, an Englishman who runs the Wild Piano; Claude the holy man, a caricature of a Roman senator; Puddler; Marcie; Eddie Lassiter. The case takes an unexpected turn when Archer finds out that Mr Sampson is being held for ransom. ‘But (Archer says) evil isn’t so simple. Everybody has it in him, and whether it comes out in his actions depends on a number of things. Environment, opportunity, economic pressure, a piece of bad luck, a wrong friend.’

Although I met Harper/Archer in Paul Newman’s films, this is the first book by Ross Macdonald that I have read and it’s worth reading. I particularly have enjoyed his writing, his dialogues, his lucidity, Archer’s character and the setting, both in terms of place and time, in which the action takes place. There are also some interesting elements of social and political critique. It may still have much influence from Hammett, as some have pointed out, but it has also many other innovative elements in the genre by which The Moving Target stands on its own merits.

It’s probably worth noting that Archer’s series can be read out of chronological order. Each book is pretty much independent. In this sense I would like to ask the opinion of the potential readers of this blog. And I would also appreciate any suggestion regarding the best books in the series. So far I have taken note of The Drowning Pool, The Way Some People Die, The Doomsters, The Galton Case, The Chill, The Underground Man, Sleeping Beauty and The Blue Hammer. Your comments are welcome.

My rating: 5/5.

Reseña: El blanco móvil, de Ross Macdonald

Ross Macdonald, el seudónimo de Kenneth Millar (1915 – 1983), está considerado como uno de los tres grandes novelistas americanos de novela negra (hardboiled), junto con Dashiell Hammett (1894 – 1961) y Raymond Chandler (1888 – 1959). Cuando murió en 1983, el New York Times escribió que era el más reconocido escritor de novela negra en los Estados Unidos. William Goldman llamó a las novelas protagonizadas por Lew Archer ‘la mejor serie de novelas de detectives jamás escritas por un americano‘.

Ross Macdonald escribió su quinta novela, con el objetivo de convertirla en una serie de detectives protagonizada por un investigador privado llamado Lew Archer. El nombre rinde homenaje a Dashiell Hammett, ‘Miles Archer’ es el socio asesinado de Sam Spade en El halcón maltés, y al autor de Ben-Hur, Lew Wallace. Aunque el personaje de Lew Archer apareció por primera vez en un relato corto publicado en 1944,  Find the Woman. El título del manuscrito era The Snatch, pero finalmente se convirtió en El blanco móvil antes de su publicación en 1949 con el seudónimo de John Macdonald, los dos primeros nombres de su padre. El seudónimo se utilizó bien para evitar cualquier confusión con su esposa, que escribía como Margaret Millar, o para proteger su reputación, ya que quería convertirse en un escritor ‘literario’. A continuación, para distinguirse del escritor John D. MacDonald, se convirtió en ‘John Ross Macdonald’. Finalmente se transformó en ‘Ross Macdonald’, nombre con el que ha llegado a ser conocido internacinalmente.

En El blanco móvil Macdonald creó la ciudad ficticia de Santa Teresa, una versión de Santa Bárbara, California. En la década de 1980, Sue Grafton empezó a utilizar Santa Teresa como el escenario de sus novelas protagonizadas por Kinsey Millhone, en homenaje a Macdonald. El blanco móvil se convirtió en la base de Harper, película de 1966 escrita por William Goldman, protagonizada por Paul Newman.

En el primer capítulo, Lew Archer es contratado por la señora Sampson, una hermosa mujer, para encontrar a su esposo, un magnate del petróleo veinte años mayor que ella. Ralph Sampson viajó a Los Angeles desde Las Vegas, ayer por la tarde en su avión privado con su piloto Alan Taggert. Se marchó del aeropuerto de Burbank en una limusina negra y no ha sido visto desde entonces. La señora Sampson, confinada a una silla de ruedas como consecuencia de un accidente de equitación, quiere encontrar a su marido antes de que sea demasiado tarde. Desde la pérdida de su único hijo durante la guerra, el señor Sampson bebe demasiado y pierde sus inhibiciones cuando bebe.

“¿Por el sexo?”
“¿Acaso no lo hacen todos los hombres? No es eso lo que me preocupa. Pierde sus inhibiciones por el dinero. Agarró una hace unos meses y regaló una montaña.”
“¿Una montaña?”
“Completa con pabellón de caza incluido.”
“¿Se lo dio a una mujer?”
“Casi lo hubiera deseado. Se lo dio a un hombre, pero no es lo que está pensando. Un santón de Los Ángeles con una gran barba gris.” (mi traducción)

Durante la investigación Archer se encontrará con una gran variedad de personajes. El piloto de Sampson, Alan Taggert; Miranda Sampson, la hijastra de veintiún años de la señora Sampson; Albert Graves uno de los abogados de Ralph, el hombre que recomendó a Archer a la señora Sampson; Fay Estabrook una actriz en declive; Betty Fraley, una pianista; Dwight Troy, un inglés que dirige el Piano Salvaje, Claude el santón, la caricatura de un senador romano; Puddler; Marcie; Eddie Lassiter. El caso toma un giro inesperado cuando Archer descubre que el señor Sampson está retenido y se exige un rescate por él. ‘Pero (dice Archer) el mal no es tan simple. Está dentro de todo el mundo, y si sale a relucir en nuestro comportamiento depende de una serie de factores. El medio, la oportunidad, la necesidad económica, la mala suerte, un amigo equivocado.’

Aunque conocía al personaje de Harper/Archer por las películas de Paul Newman, este es el primer libro de Ross Macdonald que he leído y merece la pena. Particularmente he disfrutado de su escritura, sus diálogos, su lucidez, el personaje de Archer y el ambiente, tanto en términos de lugar como de tiempo, en el que se desarrolla la acción. También tiene algunos elementos interesantes de crítica social y política. Puede que tenga todavía mucha influencia de Hammett, como algunos han señalado, pero también tiene muchos otros elementos innovadores en el género motivo por el que El blanco móvil destaca por sus propios méritos.

Probablemente vale la pena destacar que la serie de Archer se puede leer sin seguir un orden cronológico. Cada libro es bastante independiente. En este sentido me gustaría conocer la opinión de los posibles lectores de este blog. También agradecería cualquier sugerencia sobre los mejores libros de la serie. Hasta ahora he tomado nota de La piscina de los ahogados, La forma en que algunos mueren, Los maléficos, El caso Galton, El escalofrío, El hombre enterrado, La bella durmiente y El martillo azul. Agradezco sus comentarios.

Mi valoración: 5/5.

RBA Serie Negra

From My Bookshelf

About to finish reading Grey Souls (aka By a Slow River, original title Les Âmes grises) I pick from my shelves to read next, The Moving Target (Lew Archer Series #1) by Ross Macdonald (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, 1998).

Publisher comments: Like many Southern California millionaires, Ralph Sampson keeps odd company. There’s the sun-worshipping holy man whom Sampson once gave his very own mountain; the fading actress with sidelines in astrology and S&M. Now one of Sampson’s friends may have arranged his kidnapping. As Lew Archer follows the clues from the canyon sanctuaries of the megarich to jazz joints where you get beaten up between sets, ‘The Moving Target’ blends sex, greed, and family hatred into an explosively readable crime novel.

Ross Macdonald’s real name was Kenneth Millar (married to fellow author Margaret Millar). Born near San Francisco in 1915 and raised in Vancouver, British Columbia, Millar returned to the U.S. as a young man and published his first novel in 1944. He served as the president of the Mystery Writers of America and was awarded their Grand Master Award, as well as the Mystery Writers of Great Britain’s Silver Dagger Award. He died in 1983. (From the publisher).

See additional information at Wikipedia: The Moving Target, Lew Archer, Ross Macdonald.

The Spanish language translation, El blanco móvil, is published by RBA

Próximas novedades

En España saldrán próximante a la venta:

La estrategia del agua de Lorenzo Silva
Cuestión de fe (A Question of Belief) de Donna Leon
El blanco movil (The Moving Target) de Ross Macdonald
Las viudas de los jueves ( Thursday Night Widows) de Claudia Piñeiro

Y entra las novedades de bolsillo se podrán encontrar:

No hay que morir dos veces de Francisco González Ledesma
Pasado perfecto (Havana Blue) de Leonardo Padura

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