Ross Macdonald Turns 100

This weekend marked the 100th birthday of Ross Macdonald. Often referred to as the third father of the private eye novel, along with Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, he is the lesser known of this triumvirate. There are authors that may not have read one of his books, yet borrow from him just the same.

“I love to be with him in mid-century California,” says author Ace Atkins. “He picks up when Chandler left us and continues to be the moral compass in shifting times. But beyond what we expected of a crime book, he showed us how violence, turmoil and greed can effect family. The greatest at character study.”

Of the three, he was the most prolific; Macdonald wrote over twenty novels, stretching from The Dark Tunnel, originally released in 1944 under his real name Kenneth Millar, to The Blue Hammer, Macdonald’s last novel, published in 1976. Most featured his laconic private detective, Lew Archer.

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If you like Ross Macdonald…

We have our eyes on Ross Macdonald’s 100th birthday, this upcoming December 13th. If you are a fan of his or holiday shopping for someone who is, here are three books that might entertain a Macdonald fan.


9781440553974Hose Monkey by Reed Farrel Coleman

When it comes to exploring human sin and emotion like Macdonald, no one comes closer than Reed Farrel Coleman. In this look at at two marginalized men, an ex-cop and the detective that shut down his career, Coleman takes a murder mystery into the darkness of the human heart and provides a look at post- 9-11 New York life with grit and poetry. You can find copies of Hose Monkey on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. 


9780312938994A is for Alibi by Sue Grafton

Grafton takes Macdonald’s mantel of looking at California society and its vivid characters from top to bottom. She even uses the same fictional name, Santa Teresa, as her fictional stand in for Santa Barbara where her PI, Kinsey Malone, operates. You can find copies of A is for Alibi on our shelves and via bookpeople.com


9781400033591Black Maps by Peter Spiegelman

While he has a more upfront back story, John March shares the lonely knight errant quality of Lew Archer. His Wall Street stomping ground also shows the relationship between place and perpetrator that Macdonald often cited. You can find copies of Black Maps on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. 

Murder in the Afternoon Book Club Celebrates Ross Macdonald’s 100th

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  • Post by Scott Montgomery

On Tuesday, December 15th, at 2 PM, our Murder In the Afternoon Book Club will belatedly (by two days) celebrate the 100th birthday of one of private eye fiction’s greatest. Ross Macdonald gave the genre both a psychological edge and social resonance with his aware, loner detective Lew Archer. The book we’ll be discussing, The Underground Man, is the epitome of MacDonald.

Archer’s neighbor hires him to find her son, kidnapped by his father and his father’s mistress. They head toward her mother-in-law’s home, near an area plagued by a huge forest fire. Soon, Archer finds the husband dead, but the mistress and boy are still missing. In his search for the boy, Archer follows a labyrinth trail of Macdonald tropes, family secrets, losers looking for their shot, blackmail, and dangerous love.

The Underground Man will provide a great discussion – about the novel, and equally about its creator. We will be meeting at BookPeople’s cafe at 2PM on Tuesday, December 15th. The book is 10% off at the registers for those who attend. You can find copies of The Underground Man on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

Hard Word Book Club to Discuss: THE BARBAROUS COAST by Ross MacDonald

On October 28th, the Hard Word Book Club celebrates the 100th anniversary of Ross MacDonald’s birth. MacDonald is considered one of the pioneers of the American private eye novel. We will be reading one of his earlier novels, The Barbarous Coast.

barbarous coastThe novel puts his series detective, Lew Archer, in the company of Malibu’s rich and famous. Hired to find a missing swim champ turned starlet, Lew follows a trail that involves her boxer husband, some old-school mobsters, a decade-old murder and several new ones. It was written during what some refer to as MacDonald’s “Chandler Period” where he was still utilizing many of the classic PI tropes, but what he did with them were one of a kind.

We’ll be talking about both the book and MacDonald himself. The meeting will start at 7PM, on Wednesday, October 28th, up on BookPeople’s third floor. On December 15th at 2PM, our Murder In The Afternoon Book Club tackles The Underground Man, a book from MacDonald’s later years.

The Hard Word Book Club meets the last Wednesday of each month to discuss noir and hard-boiled genre literature. Book clubs are free and open to the public, and book club selections are 10% off when purchased in-store. You can find copies of The Barbarous Coast on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

Three Picks For August

archer filesThe Archer Files: The Complete Short Stories of Lew Archer, Private Detective by Ross MacDonald

Reissued for the 100th anniversary of Ross MacDonald’s birthday, this collection has all of his short stories featuring introspective PI, Lew Archer. Editor Tom Nolan has also provided unfinished work as well as a biography of the character. A good crash course for one of the most influential detectives in fiction. You can find copies of The Archer Files on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.


collector of secretsCollector Of Secrets by Richard Goodfellow

A young American teaching English in Japan gets tangled up in a conspiracy over a diary that could shake the country to its political foundation. He is chased by both the police and Yakuza with a game designing Shinto Priest. This debut thriller is nimble on its feet and full of fun characters. Collector of Secrets comes out August 11. Pre-order now!


in the dark placesIn the Dark Places: An Inspector Banks Novel by Peter Robinson

Inspector Banks is back. He and his team have to solve two separate murders in freak snowstorm. Rich characterization and story make Robinson a procedural author praised from Louise Penny to Michael Connelly. In the Dark Places comes out August 11. Pre-order now!

If you like Gillian Flynn…

Gillian Flynn’s psychological thrillers have made her one of the most popular writers in recent years, proving there can be a wide audience for dark subject matter and characters that don’t have to be “likable.” If you are a fan of Gone Girl and her other books, here are some other authors that share her sensibilities.


end of everything1. The End Of Everything by Megan Abbott

When a girl goes missing in an Eighties Detroit suburb, her friend tries to find out what happened and, in the process, uncovers the secrets of a community. Abbott has a brilliant understanding of how emotion informs mood and mines both brilliantly, finding a way to be both realistic and dreamlike.

after im gone2. After I’m Gone by Laura Lippman

One of the best books of 2014. When a cold case detective looks into the murder of of a young woman, he also has to look into the ten-year-old disappearance of the man who once kept her as his mistress. The plot is revealed through the pasts of the wife, daughters, and victim he left behind. Lippman uses the mystery to look at family, faith, class, and feminism on very human terms.

the chill3. The Chill by Ross Macdonald

When it comes to family dysfunction in crime fiction, Ross Macdonald set the standard. In one of his best known titles, his PI Lew Archer’s search for a missing wife leads to sordid past histories, a few bodies, and a true look at human sin. This classic still carries one of the most disturbing reveals fifty years after it was published.

 


Copies of the above listed books can be found on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.

MysteryPeople Q&A with John Connolly


John Connolly comes to BookPeople Tuesday, November 18, at 7 pm, and we’re looking forward to having him back at the store. His latest Charlie Parker novel, The Wolf in Winter, has the Maine PI tracing a missing woman to a town with a dark secret. We talked to John about the book, myth, history, and some of his favorite writers.


MP: A town with secrets seemed perfect for you, since it is an archetype for both detective fiction and horror. What did you want to do with the idea?

JC: I’m not sure I think of ideas in those terms.  It suggests that I’m much more organized than I actually am!  I suppose the starting point was really the Green Man mythos, which is very European in origin, and has ties to folk and pagan beliefs.  (For those not familiar with the Green Man, it’s the name given in Britain to a face formed of leaves and branches that adorns some very old churches, a link between the new Christian religion and a much older mythology.)   Then a lot of stuff encroaches in quite random ways: the proliferation of gated communities, which keep the wealthy separated from the poor, both in the US and, for example, South Africa, where my other half is from, and the mindset that goes with that kind of separation or exclusion. And you’re right: there is a point at which that notion of an enclosed community lashing out against its enemies, perceived or otherwise, offers a point of crossover between the mystery novel and supernatural fiction, and that blurring of the lines has always interested me, especially because the two genres have much more in common than conservative commentators on both sides – but the mystery side in particular – might care to admit.

MP: Several homeless characters play an important part in the book and you depict their lives in an honest way. What did you want to get across to the reader about people who live on the street?

JC: I had no interest in preaching.  No reader wants to hear the sound of the apple crate being drawn up, and the author clearing his throat. But mystery fiction does have an engagement with the real world, and I was conscious that in Portland, Maine – which provides a focal point for many of the books – there was a debate going on about the city’s obligations to its homeless people and whether, by providing them with shelter during winter, the city was in some way encouraging homelessness, which is a very odd way to look at the situation.  The reality in Maine is that if you don’t give the more vulnerable people a place to sleep during winter – even if it’s just a chair in a lobby, as is sometimes the case in Portland – you’ll find them dead on the streets the next morning.  Now there are those who seem relatively content to let that happen – to discourage the others – but I certainly don’t want to live in that kind of society, and nobody I respect wants to either.

MP: This book has some of the best Louis and Angel dialogue in the series. What has made you keep them as supporting characters?

I think they’ve become more important to Parker as the books have proceeded, and therefore their presence is more obvious.  At about the time of The Black Angel Parker was presented with a kind of choice between domesticity and a new family, represented by his girlfriend Rachel and their daughter Sam, and being able to confront wrongs and evils – and to release some of his rage, all of which was represented by Angel and Louis.  The two urges are incompatible, and so he chose the latter, and they came more to the fore as a consequence.

MP: One of the things I admire about Charlie is he seems to have carved out a life with all of the tragedy and darkness around him. What allows him to cope and live?

JC: Ultimately these are novels about hope, particularly the belief that by acting in the service of good, the world can be improved slightly, even if it is at some personal cost.  The Irish writer Edmund Burke once said that “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”  The kind of mystery fiction that I read, and write, examines the implications of that statement.

MP: Like with a lot of your books, The Wolf In Winter, the story is connected to an involved history. Are most of these histories based on something factual?

JC: Well, the Green Man mythos is real and, of course, the idea of people of a particular religious persuasion fleeing to the New World to escape persecution.  But, as with the line between mystery and the supernatural, I find it interesting to blur the distinctions at the edges, so people aren’t entirely sure what is real and what is invented, which I hope adds an additional element of unease to the books.

MP: In Books To Die For you wrote an essay on both Ross MacDonald and Michael Connelly. Is there any traits from those authors’ works you’d like to have in your own?

JC: Well, Macdonald is the great poet of empathy in the genre, and he was also a gothic writer at heart in the sense of his novels being examinations of family histories, so I see his influence in my own novels.  Michael does something very different from me, and I wrote that essay primarily as a fan, although we have a point of connection in that we are both outsiders writing about an adopted place – his is Los Angeles, mine is Maine.  I just think The Black Echo may be one of the finest first novels in the genre. He was brilliant from the start.


John Connolly will speak and sign his new book Tuesday, November 18th, at 7 pm, on BookPeople’s second floor. You can find copies of The Wolf in Winter on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. Can’t make it to the event? Pre-order a copy to be signed and we’ll get it signed for you!

 

MysteryPeople Q&A with Paul Oliver, founder of Syndicate Books


Syndicate Books is a new independent publisher, dedicated to bringing back  the works of great and influential crime authors back in print. They started this fall by bringing out British author Ted Lewis’ hard as nails Jack Carter Trilogy. Jack Carter And The Mafia Pigeon, the third book in the trilogy, appears in the U.S. for the first time. We talked with Syndicate head and founder Paul Oliver about his endeavor, Ted Lewis, and legacy publishing.


MP: How did the idea for Syndicate books come about?

PO: It goes back to when I owned a bookstore in the Philadelphia area. We sold used books as well as new and in the process of handling all of those second hand books you encounter some interesting things. It could be an author you’ve never heard of and is utterly out of print, yet they have a run of blurbs from incredibly famous writers on the dust jacket. Or recognize that the translator is someone who worked on the most imminent books of the day. Little things like that. I’d take those books home and give them a read. Sometimes they were out of print because they weren’t very good or were particularly dated. But sometimes, not often, I’d read something really good that for whatever reason had slipped through the cracks. I wanted to publish those books.

2. Was there a particular reason Ted Lewis’ Get Carter Trilogy came out first for Syndicate?

PO: I learned about Ted Lewis from Max Allan Collins. At the time, in a former life, I was working on the reissues of Derek Raymond’s excellent Factory Novels and I thought they might be up Max’s alley. I wrote to him and somewhere in my email I described Derek Raymond as “The Godfather of British Noir.” All caps. Max was gracious enough to write back and explain to me that if I wanted to talk about “The Godfather of British Noir” then I needed to be talking about someone named Ted Lewis. Ted’s books were thoroughly out of print and very expensive, a hundred or so dollars for a mass market paperback, and knowing two of the three movies (yes, there is a third movie—titled “Hitman”—starring Bernie Casey and Pam Grier) I thought it was worth investigating. I was in the process of reading Lewis and scheming about starting Syndicate when I moved to Soho Press. It didn’t take long before Stuart Neville, one of our most acclaimed authors at Soho, shared that he was a huge admirer of Lewis. I knew I had to do it.

That’s the long answer. The short one is: GET CARTER. There’s not many cooler book/movie combos going.

MP: For those who only know Jack Carter from the Michael Caine film, what are they missing that are in the books?

PO: I think the Carter in the novels is a little more human. Caine’s Carter is colder, if not more ruthless, but in the end as much interested in preserving his own name as he is avenging his brother. I think Caine’s Jack Carter evolves in the final scenes where his fiery need for personal satisfaction burns off his own ego and leaves a genuine need to avenge his brother’s death. The Jack Carter of Lewis’ novel has sincere misgivings about how he was with his brother from the start of the story. Notice that I didn’t say he has misgivings about who he was or who he had become. Carter is a villain. He is a gangster who is proud of what he has achieved but at the same time very much in conflict over how he treated his brother in life. Some of the novel’s best writing occurs in an extended flashback of Jack and Frank as kids and the moment where they went down separate paths.

MP: What makes Ted Lewis’ books important to crime fiction?

PO: He is uncompromising. It’s the most remarkable trait among his many gifts. Lewis wrote incredible dialogue and described the English postwar society with remarkable nuance and, well, disdain. But his characters were all villains and that’s what is really neat to me. In his most notable novels they are not merely people on the wrong side of the law but thoroughly bad people. Jack Carter is a high level enforcer for a London-based organized crime family (read: Kray Brothers) and he is very good at his job. These are hard tales about bad people doing bad things to other people to maintain their standard of life. In a word: crime. A lot of writers want to do this but either come up short on experience or nerve. It takes a lot of both to write a character like Jack Carter or George Fowler (the protagonist of the forthcoming novel, GBH).

If you wanted to find a literary blood brother to Jack Carter you’d only find a handful. Maybe only one: James Ellroy’s Pete Bondurant from the USA Underworld Trilogy. As Max Allan Collins writes in the introduction to Jack Carter’s Law, “Carter makes Parker look like Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.” And it’s true. Donald Westlake’s Parker would despise Jack Carter and that’s why Ted Lewis created something remarkable and, for lack of a better word, true.

MP: Each Carter book has an intro by a filmmaker or author who admired the author. Do you plan to do that for all Syndicate Books?

PO: I do. When you’re making the argument that a writer that has fallen out of print or somehow slipped out of the crime fiction canon deserves to belong there, you need a spokesperson. It’s also a very sincere process. Sometimes blurbs or intros are about money or currying favor. Ted Lewis is dead. The people who wrote those intros and blurbs stand to gain very little by doing so and I think that makes the whole thing a little more interesting.

MP: I also love the covers, they draw a nice connotation to the period in which they were originally published without being anachronistic. Can you tell us about the artist and how you both approached the look?

PO: Thanks for that. I love them too. The artist is Katherine Grames and she was incredible to work with. Carter is a very stylish man. He’s kitted out in a mohair suit and monogrammed cufflinks, and very detailed about his gear. This is the height of the Mod 60s and Carter is kind of a Mod superman. Katherine loves fashion and loved the idea of designing these books. You’ve seen her design on some of Soho’s most prominent titles: Timothy Hallinan’s Junior Bender series, Kwei Quartey’s Murder at Cape Three Points, and one of my favorites, the redesigned Station Series by David Downing. Basically she’s great.

MP: It seems lately that legacy publishing has been reserved for online publishing, but there’s been some resurgence this year of bringing some of the authors back into physical print to be sold in stores as well. What makes you see the larger market for them?

PO: It’s not that ebooks are regressing, because they’re still an incredibly large portion of a publisher’s business. But two years ago on a subway car in New York you saw a lot of tablets and reading devices. These days you’re seeing books again. Books are a rugged technology that will be hard to replace and it will be even harder for electronic books to replace the alchemy that exists between the design of a book, its contents, and a reader.

MP: Is there anything you can tell us about future endeavors for Syndicate?

PO: I’m thrilled to say Syndicate has its second project. There’s still plenty to be done with the rest of Ted Lewis’ novels, including the publication of what many consider his final masterpiece, GBH, but I’ve also gone ahead and lined up our next project. And it is a coup. In 2015 Syndicate Books will publish the complete works of Mystery Writers of America Grandmaster and crime fiction legend, Margaret Millar. Millar was a two-time Edgar-winner (literally receiving the honor of “Grandmaster”) and a Los Angeles Times “Woman of the Year.” In life she was more famous than her fellow crime author husband, Kenneth Millar (aka Ross Macdonald) but for one reason or another her books have fallen out of print. She’s tremendous and like Lewis (or any great crime writer) she was interested in the bad wood beneath the veneer of society. It just so happens that she was writing about the so-called “Greatest Generation.”


Paul Oliver is founder and head of Syndicate Books. They have so far released all of Ted Lewis’ previously out-of-print Jack Carter Trilogy, and their upcoming releases include Lewis’ novel GBH and the complete works of Margeret Millar. You can find all volumes of the Carter Trilogy on  our shelves and via bookpeople.com.

 

Double Feature: THE LONG GOODBYE

This Wednesday, July 23, at 6 pm, we will be screening Robert Altman‘s film adaption of Raymond Chandler’s novel The Long Goodbye as part of our double feature film series. At each double feature event, we screen a film version of a roman noir we know and love. Each screening is free and open to the public, and takes places on BookPeople’s third floor.

Ask any Raymond Chandler aficionado about Chandler’s best book and most will say The Long Goodbye. Rich in Southern California detail and somber meditations on friendship, it is the the closest we get to understanding his private detective, Phillip Marlowe. Although The Long Goodbye, as a novel, has achieved near-universal acclaim, Robert Altman’s film version has drawn controversy for its unconventional interpretation.

While Playback is technically the last book in the series, The Long Goodbye feels like Chandler’s true farewell to the character. In The Long Goodbye, Chandler uses the classic noir structure of two seemingly unrelated cases that soon become intertwined. One case deals with his friend, Terry Lennox, whose wife is found dead after Marlowe gives him a lift to Mexico. Soon Terry is also assumed dead, but Marlowe thinks the truth is otherwise. As he tries to figure out Terry’s whereabouts, he takes on the job of hunting down a drunken novelist, Roger Wade, to whom he ends up acting as part-time nursemaid.

With the Lennox mystery, Chandler looks at Marlowe deeper than ever before. This is the first time Marlowe is truly personally involved in a case. We watch him try to balance his friendship with Terry and his famous personal code. We also get  a stronger sense of his loneliness, making The Long Goodbye one of the most existential private eye novels out there.

What makes the book even more personal is Marlowe’s relationship with Wade. Wade and Marlowe share a similar history, especially when it comes to his drinking and marriage. Even when he’s reading one of Wade’s books, Marlowe criticizes him for overusing similes, the simile being something he was known (and often parodied) for. It was as if he was using his detective to investigate himself.

“It’s certainly his most character-driven book, and a lot more ambitious than the other Marlowe novels,” said crime novelist Wallace Stroby when I asked him about the book and movie.  “And Terry Lennox is a unique creation. I can’t think of any other crime novel beforehand, except maybe for Dashiell Hammett‘s The Glass Key, in which male friendship is so central to the plot. It’s probably Chandler’s most autobiographical novel as well. It deals pretty straightforwardly with alcoholism. It’s also been hugely influential on the genre. James Crumley‘s The Last Good Kiss is in many ways his take on The Long Goodbye.”

In Altman’s film version, Marlowe is at a distance. Shot in his famed long takes in large frame with a flashing technique he developed with cinematographer Vilmos Zigmund, the movie has a hazy feel about it. Altman said he approached the material as “Rip Van Marlowe”, with the detective coming out of a twenty year sleep that he started right after World War II and then woke up post Vietnam. This time lapse matches the twenty years difference from the release of the book to the premiere of the film. Gould plays him as if he’s sleepwalking through the cases, getting sharper as he figures out he’s getting played, ending in a confrontation far different from the book.

The movie has become a form of debate among Chandler fans. Some believe the film portrays Marlowe in way respectful to the original, while others feel that the film trashes the novel completely.  Some place Altman’s cynical depiction of L. A. as in keeping with the Chandler tradition. Some, like myself, have a different reaction each time we see it.

“It’s a love or hate proposition,” says Stroby. “I love it. But I think you have to look at it more as a Robert Altman movie than a Raymond Chandler adaptation. It’s ridiculously entertaining, and very much of its time, but it has some real noir cred, too. It was written by Leigh Brackett and has a great late-career performance by Sterling Hayden (as Wade). In fact, the whole ensemble cast is terrific. I’d much rather the filmmakers took the approach they did, than to just make another Marlowe pastiche set in the ’40s. I think it’s right up there with the best films based on Chandler’s work.”

The major concept that both film and novel share is the idea of Marlowe in changing times. Chandler starts The Long Goodbye in the ’40s, when he meets Terry Lennox, then gets the plot going in the ’50s. Marlowe feels time slipping away and his values slipping with it. With “Rip Van Marlowe” it’s already gone when he wakes up. For both PIs, time is the most dangerous and deceptive femme fatale.

 

DOUBLE FEATURE STATS FOR THE LONG GOODBYE

Adherence To Book (Scale Of 1-5): 2 (The ending is very un-Marlowe)

Adherence To Quality Of Book: 3 (Many will argue I’m being either too kind or unkind)

Suggested Viewing: Marlowe, Chinatown, Devil In A Blue Dress (Which you can see at our next Double Feature Wednesday on August 6th) Suggested Reading- Moving Target by Ross McDonald, Brown’s Requiem by James Ellroy, Concrete River by John Shannon

And for the record: The Long Goodbye is not Wallace Stroby’s favorite Chandler novel. “‘That would be Farewell, My Lovely, for its characters, mood and plot that – unlike the other Marlowes – is actually fairly simple.”

Come join us Wednesday, July 23, for a free screening of Robert Altman’s film interpretation of The Long Goodbye. It’s sure to spark a great discussion! As always, events are free and open to the public. Come join us at 6pm on the third floor.