Thursday, December 6, 2012

MacDonald and His Archer

     Ross MacDonald's mysteries, and his main protagonist Lew Archer, occupy a crucial place in literary history.  These stories are the essential link between the tough-guy private eye stories of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, which built the genre, and contemporary private eye fiction, with darker, more troubled and psychologically raw characters like James Lee Burke's DaveRobicheaux and Lawrence Block's Matt Scudder (to name two of my favorites).  MacDonald's Archer was often plunged into such cases involving the misdoings of the wealthy and influential and the ways that families could destroy themselves.  Archer was definitely a tough guy like his antecedents, but he was also the first of the bunch to start down a path filled with looming shadows of psychic doom and devastation that deepened and darkened the genre overall.  The Doomsters and the Galton Case are good places to dive into Archer's adventures, as they represented the ratcheting up of psychological intensity in the series.  You might also catch PaulNewman's interpretation of the character, renamed Harper for some reason, in two movies based on Mr. MacDonald's books, namely Harper and the Drowning Pool.      
     Reading through these books has put me in the mind of writing a mystery and how an author might bring this noirish sense into a YA setting most effectively and believably.  One signpost in this direction is the movie Brick, in which a high school student looks into the death of his girlfriend, and it comes complete with a hard-boiled voice-over.  Somewhere down the line, I'm going to take a stroll down the path that Mr. MacDonald blazed so compellingly.


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