Friday, May 15, 2009

Friday's Forgotten Books: The Way Some People Die by Ross Macdonald

He let me know he had a gun, he thought he’d throw a scare into me. I didn’t tell him I was handling firearms before his dam dropped him on the curb and kicked him into the gutter. He wanted to think he was smooth and sharp and I let him go on thinking it.
Mrs. Samuel Lawrence pays detective Lew Archer fifty dollars (one day’s salary) to find her wayward daughter, Galatea. Galley, as she's known, is beautiful, crazy for men and was last seen with local small-time hood, Joe Tarantine. Archer’s investigation begins in his stomping grounds of Southern California and a lawless trail leads him across country to Palm Springs.

Macdonald’s psychological insight into the motivations of his multi-layered characters coupled with stunning writing led The Chicago Tribune to accurately point out, “Ross Macdonald gives to the detective story that accent of class that Raymond Chandler did.” Amen. I defy anyone to turn to a page in this book without landing on a passage of poetic prose:

I caught occasional glimpses of the sea, white capped and desolate under a driving sky. The unsteady wind whined in the corners of the cut-banks and fell off in unexpected silences. In one of the silences, under the drive of the motor, I heard Galley crying to herself.
If you need to shake things up a bit after reading your dog-eared copy of Phillip Marlowe for the eighth time, then I'd suggest giving the heir of Hammett and Chandler, Ross Macdonald, a go with The Way Some People Die.

For more FFBs, check Patti Abbott’s site here.


Anonymous said...

I always felt Macdonald was superior to Chandler but I'm sure I am in the minority on that. I was disappointed when the Newman movies changed the character's name to Harper and that was a movie I saw on opening night in 1966. Dave, do you remember sixty-six?

-Don Ward

Unknown said...

No, you're in no way in the minority on this. Macdonald was by far the superior craftsman and Lew Archer was by far the superior creation. David, the way some people die is one of my favorites in the series (If not one of my favorite detective novels.) and is a great choice

David Cranmer said...

Don, I missed the sixties by three months and thanks for reminding me (again) you are my superior. And speaking of superiors, Macdonald was an extraordinary writer but I feel Chandler's slumming angel has the edge. But like I'm fond of saying I would hate to live on the difference.

Keith, I wasn't sure whether to add this because Lew Archer is far from forgotten in my world but I asked a couple of mystery readers (non writers) and they were clueless to who Macdonald was.

pattinase (abbott) said...

The classic setup but what he can do with it.

Diane said...

Never read Ross Macdonald but will swing by Borders on my way home today. The "his dam dropped him on the curb and kicked him into the gutter" had me spitting my morning coffee out.

Cullen Gallagher said...

I'm ashamed to say I haven't read Ross yet, though I do have "Blue City" on my shelf right now. Have you read that one - do you recommend starting there, or with another book?

George said...

THE CHILL and BLACK MONEY are terrific. Ross Macdonald never wrote a bad book. Some are just more excellent than others.

David Cranmer said...

Patti, That’s the talent of the greats to take a routine plot and make you feel that you’re reading it for the first time.

Diane, You will find many such passages. It’s like a text book on how to write the quintessential detective novel.

Cullen, You can start anywhere. Like George says in his comment, Macdonald didn’t write a bad novel.

George, The Chill and Black Money are from the late 60s and nearly twenty years after beginning he was still at the top of his game. Just an incredible writer.

I do need to read some of his short stories which have slipped through the cracks.

Todd Mason said...

I've certainly not yet read a bad first was THE BLUE HAMMER, which is perhaps the least loved (and last) of the Archer novels, and it's better than fine, by me.

Deeper than Chandler, more interior than Hammett, perhaps a bit more elegant than's hard to know crime fiction w/o knowing Macdonald. The better half, as you know, not too shabby at this, either.

George said...

The books Ross Macdonald published in the 1970s show subtle signs of the Alzheimer's that would claim his life.

RJR said...

How anyone casn sya they read mysteries and have NOT read Ross Mac is beyond me. I read him when I was 15 (along with Christie, Carr, Spillane, EQ, Earl Derr Biggers, Sayers, etc.) right after I saw Harper. Lew Archer, Ross Mac and Paul Newman made me a writer.


David Cranmer said...

Todd, Yeah I like that final novel too and if this was considered his worse than I’d be so fortunate to write something that 'bad'

George, Sad that John D also passed away around the same time from the same disease.

RJR, You reminded me that I watched THE DROWNING POOL , HARPER first and then dived headlong into the books in my teens. A great start to any writer's education.

Sarah Laurence said...

Wow, that second quotation is so evocative. Thanks for sharing it. I'm always partial to seascapes and good writing.

Randy Johnson said...

You managed to post on only one of the three Archer novels I haven't read. I guess I need to go ahead and find those three.

Ray said...

I can believe that there are one or two people in the world who have never heard of Ross MacDonald.
Our local 'Waterstones' has a new manager - a kid fresh out of nappies - who has not heard of Ross MacDonald - or Spillane or Chandler. He actually asked me if they were new authors.
Maybe, I'm getting too old.
Yet, there is something comforting about reading old books - and this book is one of them.

David Cranmer said...

Sarah, You may have to dip into Ross D's world and check out this series because there's many such passages.

Randy, I just checked and there's five Lew Archer novels I haven't read and most of the short stories. So luckily I still have some left.

Ray, Amazingly everyone today is reading James Patterson, John Grisham etc without ever going back to find what has come before. I'm one to always start at the beginning and work forward.

Martin Edwards said...

I haven't read this book, but the Macdonalds I have read have been excellent.

Linda McLaughlin said...

I've never read Ross Macdonald, but one of my friends has raved about him for years. I'll have to give him a try having read your excerpts.