I’ve developed a recent habit of revisiting old books; some favorites, others not. I wanted to see how they held up after all this time and if my notions of them were still true.
Many list The Drowning Pool as one of Ross Macdonald (Kenneth Millar)’s greatest works. I am a Lew Archer diehard. I’ve said many times in this space that it’s my favorite detective mystery series of all-time. But I’m also lucky that I unintentionally began it later in the series, when Macdonald had already sharpened his craft, as opposed to the beginning when he was just trying to imitate his predecessors. Drowning Pool is the second in the series but about the sixth or seventh Archer I read and I’m glad I came to it later as I wasn’t keen to it when I read it the first time.
A second reading left me with a more charitable feeling. The first Archer book, The Moving Target, felt like it was a Chandler tryhard. This one has more of Macdonald’s voice than I originally remember. He’s especially good at evoking that feeling of melancholia around the dirty deeds families do to each other, while helping us to feel empathy for most of the characters. I’d say about 75% of the book feels truly like Macdonald’s.
The plot itself is a bit too messy for my taste. It’s familiar if you’ve ever read an Archer but it’s tough to get engaged with the characters until near the end. There’s also the all too familiar private eye novel tropes of our hero getting whacked on the head and knocked out, as well as conveniently eavesdropping on expository conversations.
Still, it’s better than I remembered. I’m sticking with the three-star review because of the curve I grade these on. Macdonald would improve greatly with book three: The Way Some People Die.