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Read The Name Is Archer (1991)

The Name Is Archer (1991)

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3.82 of 5 Votes: 2
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0446361569 (ISBN13: 9780446361569)
warner books (ny)

The Name Is Archer (1991) - Plot & Excerpts

Out of the two post-war heirs to Raymond Chandler's title as master of the American hardboiled detective novel, it was Mickey Spillane who conquered the bestseller lists but Ross Macdonald whom the academic literates embraced. It's not difficult to see why even from this anthology of early short stories where Macdonald's heroic private eye Lewis Archer is hard to distinguish from a more introverted Philip Marlowe. Macdonald seems to have gone in the complete opposite direction of Spillane by downplaying the trademark sleaze and grit of Hammett and Chandler in favour of introspection and complex moral dilemmas.Another difference which already at this point gives Macdonald his own distinct vibe is that instead of the Great Depression and World War Two, Lew Archer's adventures take place against the backdrop of the immediate post-WW2 economic boom which resulted in one of the most optimistic and prosperous eras in American history. Macdonald takes great advantage of this by making a point out of showing the dysfunction and neurosis beneath the surface of modernity and progress. That entire theme might be something of a cliché now, one that Macdonald probably helped invent, the reason it works here being that unusually intellectual take on the hardboiled detective genre I mentioned before. There's very little explicit sex or violence in most of the stories, and they don't show anywhere as much interaction between different layers of society instead focusing on for the most part internal conflicts among financially successful families.At the same time, calling Macdonald's approach to the genre psychological rather than sociological would be a gross oversimplification. Throughout he shows a keen sense of milieu both in terms of geography, architecture and social dynamics with an interesting emphasis on the changing gender roles of the era. The important part is that in the stories' central conflict it's usually difficult to make out a moral high ground, and every part is thoroughly humanized even when being clearly in the wrong or doing reprehensible things.His writing is still not quite as perfect as it would become later, with Archer often being something of a cipher characterization-wise and a couple storylines being resolved in a somewhat awkward manner with an over-reliance on clichéd plot twists such as last-minute confessions from the culprit. Nonetheless, anyone who likes the genre at all would do well to check this out.

Several people recommended Ross Macdonald's Lew Archer series as the ones coming very close to Raymond Chandler's writing quality. I really liked the works of the latter, but his Philip Marlowe feels quite old and way too cynical in the latter novels. So does Ross Macdonald deliver? Yes, sort of; read on for the explanation.If you read any noir mystery books from the real masters of the genre you know what to expect. Corrupt cops, a femme fatale, mobsters and their henchmen, big gunfights, a cynical hero with a heart of gold getting knocked out by a blow on his head - all of these and more are here. I cannot help comparing Lew Archer to Philip Marlowe as the letter is the sample against whom everything else is measured. Archer does not come as fleshed out as Marlowe, but this is understandable considering these are his initial stories. He does not use brilliant one-liners trademarked by Marlowe, but there are some gold nuggets in his dialog once in a while. He is also not as cynical as Marlowe and does not drink as much (I always wondered how Marlowe managed to keep his head relatively clear with the amount of drinking he did). Archer also gets his head hit a lot to the extent that I would wear a motorcycle helmet without taking it off in his place.The writing quality is fairly good and once again I will cut the gut some slack as this is a collection of his first stories. The plots were complicated enough to keep me interested until the end.My final rating is 3.5 stars rounded up. I have really high hopes for the series and would recommend any Raymond Chandler fan to look into it. This review is a copy/paste of my BookLikes one:

What do You think about The Name Is Archer (1991)?

This book is proof to the mastery of MacDonald's talent. Within these pages are a dozen or so short stories chronicling a few cases taken by the great detective protagonist Lew Archer. What MacDonald usually accomplishes in 200 lean pages, he triumphs at executing in 20. It is amazing that in just a short amount of lines, he can get the reader knee deep in a mystery, still throw in a few twists, then escape the other side with a great ending. He is amazing.Anyone not wanting to invest in a full novel to get an idea of MacDonald's style and power need only to read a couple of these short stories and you'll be hooked.I used "Wildgoose Chase" in my freshman honors class and they loved it. Some of our best discussions stemmed from that story, and like myself they were amazed to find out it was over forty years old.

Ross MacDonald wrote in obscurity for many years. His paperbacks always had twisted family plots and a solid,rock-like ex-cop named Lew Archer. The writing was solid, too. Ross never wasted words. As the discipline of the genre ruled, he could say a lot withvery few words. These early stories show the rawness of his writing. Archer is new and somewhat untried in this life. He stumbles. But the writing still comes through, raw or not. His humor shows, as well. In one of these stories, he lets a hungry young woman on atrain eat his lunch sandwiches. The woman is mysterious and paranoid. She asks Archer if someone named Sidney had put Archer up tomeeting her. Archer answers, "I'll make a clean breast of it. The sandwichesare drugged. The train conductor is in my pay. After this comes theabduction, by helicopter." After years of writing these understated and fascinatingbooks, Ross got discovered and made legitimate. The New York Times called the Archer series, if memory serves,"the finest series of detective novels ever written by an American." These stories have violence and gunplay in them. But they also have Archer. And Archer develops in these tales. Ross developed in the same way, almost in step with hischaracter. Read this book for the excitement of his early years.---- Frank Hickey, writer of the Max Royster crime novels throughPigtown Books and LAPD, retired.
—Frank Hickey

Srinivas! Your review was wonderful! Quick and fun to read the excitement in your words. I'm with you, the worse Ross Macdonald (one I would give 4 1/2 stars to) is a great read. We're on the same page here, no doubt. I need another Lew Archer fix, I know that.
—Srinivas Prasad Veeraraghavan

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