I’ve ordered these reviews exactly opposite from the order in which I read them, just to make things slightly more confusing.
The Moving Target
I’m trying to review this book, but the plot has intermingled in my brain with that of The Drowning Pool. They are virtually indistinguishable from one another. It also doesn’t help that I finished this book about two weeks ago. I typically listen to audiobooks at work, but I’ve gotten kind of obsessed with the podcast Knowledge Fight, which critically examines Alex Jones’s Info Wars. I’m going through their series exploring Jones’s response to the Sandy Hook massacre – and it’s infuriatingly wild. So I haven’t been doing much reading lately.
Ross Macdonald is one of the main pen names of Kenneth Millar, and he was perhaps the most prominent crime fiction writer of the mid-20th century. At least, according to Wikipedia. I know about these books because they were available for free download (with membership) on Audible. The Moving Target is the first novel in his series about Lew Archer, private detective. But I actually read it after The Drowning Pool, for no other reason than I’ve heard of the movie adaptation of that one – though I haven’t actually seen it, so I’m not sure why it even matters. Though, apparently this novel became a Paul Newman movie, too (Harper). I haven’t seen that one, either.
Millar didn’t even use “Ross MacDonald” (probably his more famous pen name) for this book, choosing instead to go with “John Macdonald”.
Published in 1949, The Moving Target is a hard-boiled detective novel about a private investigator named Lew Archer. Archer is Macdonald’s Phillip Marlowe, and he would go on to write 17 novels about him. This is the first.
Archer is hired to track down a missing millionaire named Ralph Sampson. Hired by the man’s wife, he begins by interviewing Sampson’s pilot. This leads him along the post-war California coast, with Archer mixing with the wealthy and entitled Sampson family and the lower class citizens of the fictional town of Santa Teresa. The novel is full of the clipped fast-paced dialogue you’d expect from this type of novel, and Macdonald doesn’t shy away from tackling drugs and porn – which quite shocked me, considering when the book was written.
Overall, I found it fairly engaging, if not quite as entertaining as it’s follow-up. If crime fiction is your thing, I think it’s well worth a read.
The Drowning Pool
The further removed I am from this novel, the less I remember it. A year from now, there’s a good chance I’ll not remember having read it at all.
With that said, I quite liked it and it only took two days to get through the audiobook.
This go ’round, Lew Archer is investigating the blackmail of a woman named Maude Slocumb for her less than respectable behavior with another man. Maude’s husband is the son of a very wealthy woman, and she and her husband have a very unhappy marriage that’s only held together because of his inheritance and their daughter. There are few references to his possible homosexuality – and it’s presented exactly like I’d expect in a hard boiled detective novel from 1950.
Well, as these things tend to, the novel quickly turns into the hunt for a killer, as one of the characters winds up dead.
The Ice Harvest
I remember watching this movie about fifteen years ago mainly because the screenplay was written by Richard Russo (one of my favorite authors). I found it okay, and largely forgettable. Having now read the book, I found it a somewhat seedier noir-ish version of a Richard Russo novel. Wichita is depicted is a rundown city with little to offer, and the characters are all broken in some way, but charming in spite of themselves.
And I liked it quite a bit.
To be clear, I didn’t think anyone in this book was particularly good – but I don’t think anyone was supposed to be, either.
Charlie Arglist can’t wait to leave Wichita, but he’s waiting for his partner. He’s got a giant bag of money (which they’ve embezzled from a local crime boss), it’s Christmas (and there’s a snow storm), and he’s got some time to kill (so he spends most of his time in bars and strip clubs). I’ve just described most of the novel.
It’s got a pretty interesting cast of characters, and the story is kind of meandering in an novel way – but not much happens until the end. And that’s okay. It’s not really about the destination.
I know I don’t really have anything interesting to say about any of these novels. I read the last of these books a couple weeks ago, now, and don’t really have a strong feeling about any of them. The Ice Harvest was enjoyable without being overly impactful. The Macdonald books were serviceable, but I think I like film noir more than hard-boiled detective novels. I don’t know. I haven’t read many. I wasn’t blown away.
But, I’m also not really into reading right now. I’m still in my Wheel of Time malaise, which I didn’t expect to last nearly this long.