(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The Goodbye Look, like most of the Lew Archer novels, ranges widely in its action, but its principal setting is the fictitious town of Pacific Point, an affluent community which appears in several other Archer novels, most notably The Chill (1964). As the novel begins, private detective Archer has been called to Pacific Point (which lies a few miles south of the Los Angeles county border) by lawyer John Truttwell, who wants him to investigate a burglary at the palatial home of Irene and Larry Chalmers, longtime clients, neighbors, and friends, whose son Nicholas is engaged to Truttwell’s daughter Betty. All that is missing, according to Mrs. Chalmers, is a gold box containing some letters that her husband had written to his mother more than twenty years earlier during World War II. The Chalmerses refuse to call the police because they suspect Nick, who, Archer learns, has had emotional problems over the years and recently has become involved with an older woman, Mrs. Jean Trask.

With this background Archer begins his investigation, which leads him on a circuitous journey into the past and involves him with a variety of people from all walks of life. Before he solves the case, three people are killed, one commits suicide, and an old murder is solved.

Nick’s desire to learn about his past is the motivating force behind the action, and he joins with Jean Trask, who also is obsessed with learning the fate of her father, Eldon Swain, who disappeared years earlier, deserting his young daughter and wife Louise (daughter of Samuel Rawlinson, president of the Pasadena bank where Swain was cashier). Swain generally is thought to have been the person who embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars from his father-in-law’s bank. To aid in the search, Jean had hired Sidney Harrow, a San Diego bill collector, but when Archer locates him, he discovers Harrow’s corpse. When Archer first meets Nick, the young man is suicidal and believes that he shot Harrow; the pistol, Archer learns, has an interesting pedigree, for it first was owned by Samuel Rawlinson, who gave it to his daughter Louise, and it subsequently was taken by Eldon Swain, upon his return from Mexico, where he had gone with young Rita Shepherd, daughter of the Swain gardener.

Jean’s hope that Swain is still alive is dashed by the discovery that the same revolver which was used to kill...

(The entire section is 977 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Bruccoli, Matthew J., and Richard Layman. Hardboiled Mystery Writers: Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Ross MacDonald. New York: Carroll and Graf, 2002. A handy supplemental reference that includes interviews, letters, and previously published studies. Illustrated.

Bruccoli, Matthew J. Ross Macdonald. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1984. Describes the development of Macdonald’s popular reputation as a prolific author of detective fiction and his critical reputation as a writer of literary merit. Includes illustrations, an appendix with an abstract of his Ph.D. thesis, notes, a bibliography, and an index.

Schopen, Bernard A. Ross Macdonald. Boston: Twayne, 1990. A sound introductory study, with a chapter on Macdonald’s biography (“The Myth of One’s Life”), on his handling of genre, his development of the Lew Archer character, his mastery of the form of the detective novel, and the maturation of his art culminating in The Underground Man. Provides detailed notes and an annotated bibliography.

Sipper, Ralph B., ed. Ross Macdonald: Inward Journey. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Cordelia Editions, 1984. This collection of twenty-seven articles includes two by Macdonald, one a transcription of a speech about mystery fiction and the other a letter to a publisher which discusses Raymond Chandler’s work in relation to his own. Contains photographs and notes on contributors.

Skinner, Robert E. The Hard-Boiled Explicator: A Guide to the Study of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Ross Macdonald. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1985. An indispensable volume for the scholar interested in tracking down unpublished dissertations as well as mainstream criticism. Includes brief introductions to each author, followed by annotated bibliographies of books, articles, and reviews.

South Dakota Review 24 (Spring, 1986). This special issue devoted to Macdonald, including eight articles, an editor’s note, photographs, and notes, is a valuable source of criticism.

Speir, Jerry. Ross Macdonald. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1978. Serves as a good introduction to Macdonald’s work, with a brief biography and a discussion of the individual novels. Includes chapters on his character Lew Archer, on alienation and other themes, on Macdonald’s style, and on the scholarly criticism available at the time. Contains a bibliography, notes, and an index.

Wolfe, Peter. Dreamers Who Live Their Dreams: The World of Ross Macdonald’s Novels. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green University Press, 1976. This detailed study contains extensive discussions of the novels and a consideration of the ways in which Macdonald’s life influenced his writing. Includes notes.