(Masterpieces of American Literature)

The Moving Target is a quickly paced mystery-adventure novel filled with chases, fights, and murders which Macdonald described as “a story clearly aspiring to be a movie,” which it became: Harper, starring Paul Newman, in 1966. His fourth novel, it is a landmark in his career, marking as it does the debut of Lew Archer, a Los Angeles private detective patterned after Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, with whom Archer shares a sense of righteousness. Archer, however, is more introspective and realistic. Being the narrator, he becomes the moral center of the book.

Linked as the book is to the “hard-boiled” detective fiction tradition, Archer is challenged by several dangerous physical encounters with adversaries. In one struggle: “I clubbed the gun and waited. The first two got bloody scalps. Then they swarmed over me, hung on my arms, kicked my legs from under me, kicked consciousness out of my head. . . . I came to fighting. My arms were pinned, my raw mouth kissing cement.” In another encounter, “His fist struck the nape of my neck. Pain whistled through my body like splintered glass, and the night fell on me solidly again.” A bit later he overcomes his captor, they fall into the water struggling, and Archer kills the man in self-defense. (In later novels, Archer’s challenges become increasingly cerebral instead of physical, as he moves from his mid-thirties to middle age.)

With its Southern California...

(The entire section is 562 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Bruccoli, Matthew J. Ross Macdonald. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1984.

Gale, Robert. A Ross Macdonald Companion. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2002.

Mahan, Jeffrey H. A Long Way from Solving That One: Psycho/Social and Ethical Implications of Ross Macdonald’s Lew Archer Tales. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1990.

Nolan, Tom. Ross Macdonald: A Biography. New York: Scribner, 1999.

Schopen, Bernard A. Ross Macdonald. Boston: Twayne, 1990.

Sipper, Ralph B., ed. Ross Macdonald: Inward Journey. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Cordelia Editions, 1984.

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.

South Dakota Review 24 (Spring, 1986).

Speir, Jerry. Ross Macdonald. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1978.

Wolfe, Peter. Dreamers Who Live Their Dreams: The World of Ross Macdonald’s Novels. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green University Press, 1976.