Ross Macdonald Macdonald, Ross (Pseudonym of Kenneth Millar) (Vol. 1) - Essay

Macdonald, Ross (Pseudonym of Kenneth Millar) (Vol. 1)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Macdonald, Ross (Pseudonym of Kenneth Millar) 1915–

An American detective story writer in the tradition of Raymond Chandler, Macdonald is the creator of Lew Archer and the author of such best-selling novels as The Goodbye Look, The Underground Man, and The Moving Target. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 9-10.)

[Macdonald] is not only the best in his field but an important American novelist on any level. I know of no other writer who catches the spectrum of California life so succinctly, or who can deal with old sadness in such an immediate way.

Dick Adler, in Book World, February 25, 1968, p. 14.

Setting art aside …, taste a sample of sheer, true-blue professionalism by reading the first chapter of Ross Macdonald's … thriller [The Instant Enemy]. In five pages Mr. Macdonald will hook you as neatly and as tightly as the first scene of "Hamlet" hooked the nut-cracking, orange-sucking groundlings at the Globe.

Thomas Lask, in New York Times (© 1968 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), July 6, 1968, p. 19.

Though the first half dozen or so [of Macdonald's novels] were enormously influenced by Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler (Archer, in fact, was named after Miles Archer, Sam Spade's murdered partner in [The Maltese Falcon]), Macdonald's novels of the last decade have been of a texture never done by anyone before….

Like any first-rate writer, he has created and peopled his own world. Nobody writes southern California like Macdonald writes it. All those new rich people, the perfect front lawns where no one but the gardener ever treads, the dustless houses with their huge picture windows facing other picture windows—there's something unalive about it all. And since Macdonald's characters are all dying anyway, that's what makes him their perfect chronicler. At any rate, his world is every bit as tactile as O'Hara's Pennsylvania.

William Goldman, in New York Times Book Review (© 1969 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), June 1, 1969, p. 1.

Mr. Macdonald's career is one of the most honorable I know. His later books are better than his early ones, but I haven't read one that I'd advise against. The very first Lew Archer novel, [The Moving Target] (1949), can still be reread after [The Chill] (1964), or [The Underground Man] without disappointment.

Mr. Macdonald began as a modest, alertly capable disciple of Hammett and Chandler and did nearly a decade's good work before [The Galton Case] of 1957 opened his deepening, complexly personal sequence of later novels. That book sounded the theme of the abandoned son searching for his lost father that recurs in [The Underground Man].

Walter Clemons, "Ross Macdonald at His Best" (© 1971 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), in New York Times, February 19, 1971, p. 33.

Not since W. S. Gilbert brought to jolly culmination the Victorian obsession with children who somehow mislay—or are mislaid by—their parents, has a writer been as successful with entertainments revolving around what might loosely be termed the Oedipal theme as Ross Macdonald. His last two novels have enjoyed front-page coverage in the [New York] Times Book Review, he has recently been the subject of a Newsweek cover story, and, most important of all, he has broken through the barrier that normally segregates the detective novelist from the rest of literature….

It is [the] failure to evoke a milieu, and the related failure to develop a wide range of memorable characters to populate it, that represents Macdonald's great defect as a novelist…. [His] cast remains remarkably similar from book to book, with only the names, sketchy physical descriptions, and occupations varying while the psychological typology remains constant. What is more curious is his obsession with the upper-middle class and the rich. It is nearly always to their enclaves, many of them well outside Los Angeles, that Lew Archer is called to duty….

At best, Macdonald is a writer of severely limited capabilities and a rather weak inheritor of the tradition of what Edmund Wilson once called "the boys in the back room." He is, moreover, an entertainer who has wiped the grin off his face and is thus able to confront the historical moment with that measure of decorum the middlebrow public deems suitable to its seriousness.

Richard Schickel, "Detective Story" (reprinted by permission from Commentary; © 1971 by the American Jewish Committee), in Commentary, September, 1971, pp. 96-9.