I didn’t really know much about this book going in, but it was referenced in the PD James book “Talking about Detective Fiction” as a kind of inheritor of Raymond Chandler, and in this first book, that holds up for sure. We follow Lew Archer, a former cop turned private detective, as he’s hired to assist on a missing person, a business tycoon in Los Angeles, who has gone missing. His family–a second wife and adult daughter–are worried something has happened to him. A recent note from his has requested 100,000 dollars and Archer think this indicates that he’s been kidnapped and this is a kind of ransom in the form of extortion. So he dives in.
Where he lands is in Los Angeles of the late 1940s, very post-war, not glitzy at all, and like with Raymond Chandler, we spend a lot of time with the grime. Archer is a little more cop than Marlowe is, and he’s less likely to make a quip, but he is pretty good at breaking down the changes in America and trying to make sense of the world. He’s also younger and somewhat more cynical than Marlowe, and this means his analysis is more dire. PD James is right that this book seems to indicate the next steps after Marlowe, and seeing American and especially Los Angeles in these new ways.
It’s a solid book with a good mystery, but there’s so many books in this series I am curious how long it can maintain what it begins here.