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!