Hammett, Chandler, and …

Ross Macdonald (December 13, 1915 – 1983) – American Writer

newman harper

I fiddled around so long trying to think of what I wanted to say about Ross Macdonald that his birthday nearly passed. He is my third favorite “crime writer” … take a wild guess who numbers 1 and 2 are … and, as with Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, he deserves admiration purely as a writer not just as a writer of genre fiction.ross_macdonald

If you want to know what Southern California was like in the three decades after World War II, begin with Macdonald’s 18 Lew Archer private eye novels and his half dozen standalones. Macdonald covers more ground – geographically and socioeconomically – than any of his non-genre contemporaries. And he could flat-out write. Here’s a small sample from the first page of the first Lew Archer novel, The Moving Target (1949):

“The light-blue haze in the lower canyon was like a thin smoke from slowly burning money. Even the sea looked precious through it, a solid wedge held in the canyon’s mouth, bright blue and polished like a stone. Private property: color guaranteed fast; will not shrink egos. I had never seen the Pacific look so small.”

Although most of the main Hammett and Chandler novels have been transferred to the screen, Ross Macdonald has resisted adaptation. Only two major movies (both starring Paul Newman as the inexplicably renamed “Lew Harper”) have been made from Macdonald’s many books. The Moving Target became Harper (1966) directed by Jack Smight; and the second Archer novel, The Drowning Pool, was made into a film of the same name in 1975 directed by Stuart Rosenberg.

Born Kenneth Millar in Los Gatos, California, the great Ross Macdonald died of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease (at the age of 67) in 1983.

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