Whatever became of Lew Archer?

ross-macdonald(Canscene) — Books by the late California-born, Ontario- educated Kenneth Millar writing under the name Ross Macdonald, have long been ranked along with those of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler as one of the three pillars of private eye literature.

Of late, the chronicles of the Southern California private eye seem to have faded in the eyes of the intelligentsia of the detective novel, at least north of the border.

Outnumbering the output of Hammett and Chandler put together, Macdonald created the unforgettable Lew Archer in books like The Moving Target and The Goodbye Look. Archer was tenacious but sensitive and for an image the actor Paul Newman springs readily to mind as he plays Archer in both Harper (The Moving Target)  and The Drowning Pool. Newman’s own fixation with the letter “H” renamed Archer to Harper. The casting was controversial; many thought Newman was “too handsome.”

Running throughout the 18 novels and three short story collections is Archer’s   concern for the environment and a sensitivity to the relationship between the characters among whom he prowls for clues. Himself the product of a broken home, Macdonald paints characters whose origins trouble them or are lost in mystery.

Born in 1915, Macdonald died of Alzheimer’s in 1983. He married Margaret Sturm of Kitchener, Ontario who, as Margaret Millar, became  a noted and prolific crime writer whose award-winning works have been highly praised although overshadowed by the success of her husband; she died in 1994

In a tribute to Macdonald, J. Kingston Pierce author and crime book blogger, swrote:

“After The Goodbye Look hit bookstores, novelist/screenwriter William Goldman (who’d written the script for Harper) declared the Archer novels ‘the finest series of detective novels ever written by an American.’

“Simultaneously, John Leonard of The New York Times stated in print what others had already realized: that Millar/Macdonald — who had once considered his private-eye fiction a mere sideline while he crafted more “significant” literature — had transcended the genre to become “a major American novelist.”

“Ever since, his books have been the subjects of literary analyses and college studies. They’ve helped inspire new generations of writers — from Robert B. Parker and Sue Grafton, to Roger Simon, Jonathan Kellerman, S.. Rozan, James Ellroy, and Richard Barre — to further explore and expand the detective-fiction field. And 25 years after the author’s demise, the Archer tales remain in print, most of them recently reissued in trade-paperback size by Vintage Books.”

All well and good but though I read dozens of reviews and essays on crime friction, I scarcely recall a mention of Ross  Macdonald or Lew Archer over the past few years.

Or am I wrong?

Comments are closed.