Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Published in 1969, The Goodbye Look was Ross Macdonald’s twenty-first novel, his sixteenth with Lew Archer as detective, and his first best-seller. This also was the first of his books to be reviewed on the front page of The New York Times Book Review instead of getting merely a brief notice inside along with other mysteries—an indication that the literary establishment was starting to look upon him as more than simply a writer of complex whodunits in the hard-boiled tradition of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. Beginning with this book, Macdonald was taken seriously as an important novelist.

This new recognition notwithstanding, The Goodbye Look is replete with echoes of previous novels. The Southern California setting and multiple plots are Macdonald commonplaces, as are the quest, Oedipal, antiwar, and greed motifs. Yet distinguishing this book from its predecessors is the author’s surer hand. Here, for example, his multiple plotting, more complex than ever, encompasses six different families whose paths cross over a quarter of a century. Even those characters who are not fully developed or who are presented only through others’ eyes (such as those of Eldon Swain) are depicted so that their moral decline is vividly delineated.

Finally, while Lew Archer’s ratiocinative instincts are as sharp as ever in this novel, they are tempered here by a greater sensitivity toward the people with whom he becomes involved. In The Goodbye Look, he is a more humane and sensitive man, not merely a stereotypical private eye.