Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Moving Target: Ross Macdonald

The Moving Target is the first book in the Lew Archer series. Archer is called to the home of  millionaire Ralph Sampson, in Santa Teresa. Sampson is missing. Although he has been gone for less than a day, the circumstances of his disappearance are suspicious.

Sampson is described as a very eccentric millionaire, who has given away a mountain retreat to a "holy man" and dabbles in astrology. The main characters in this book, other than Archer, are Sampson's wife, his daughter, and his pilot. Sampson's lawyer, Bert Graves, is an old friend of Archer's. Once Archer starts his investigation, a lot of seamy characters that were associated with Sampson are unearthed. There are very few appealing characters in this book, but they were interesting.

I enjoyed this book more than the Ross Macdonald book I read last month, The Ivory Grin. I think that is because the plot was less convoluted and I could understand Archer's motivation throughout. It might also help a bit that Santa Teresa is a fictionalized version of Santa Barbara, California. Santa Barbara in 1949, but still recognizably Santa Barbara.

Archer started out as a policeman and became disenchanted.
When I went into police work in 1935, I believed that evil was a quality some people were born with, like a harelip. A cop's job was to find those people and put them away. But evil isn't so simple. Everybody has it in him, and whether it comes out in his actions depends on a number of things. Environment, opportunity, economic pressure, a piece of bad luck, a wrong friend.
Ross Macdonald is well known for his imagery. Sometimes he goes overboard in my opinion, but most readers love it.

A cab driver offers to drop him at The Wild Piano in West Hollywood:
“Why not?” I said. “The night is young.” I was lying. The night was old and chilly, with a slow heartbeat. The tires whined like starved cats on the fog-sprinkled black-top. The neon along the strip glared with insomnia.
And Archer aims a lot of criticism at women in this book. An example:
It seemed to me then that evil was a female quality, a poison that women secreted and transmitted to men like disease.
It will be interesting as I read later books in the series to see if his opinion of women softens.

Other resources:
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Publisher: Vintage Books, 1998 (orig. pub. 1949)
Length:  245 pages
Format: trade paperback
Series:  Lew Archer novels, #1
Setting: Santa Barbara and Los Angeles, California and surrounding areas
Genre:  Mystery
Source: purchased my copy


28 comments:

  1. Tracy, your review gives me an idea what to expect from this book which is lying on my bookshelf. I didn't know it was the first in the author's Lew Archer series. My Fontana copy of the book has a target with bull's eye on the cover.

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    1. I think you will like it, Prashant. I hope to hear what you think of it.

      I love that paperback cover, I don't have any vintage copies of this book. That is the one with Paul Newman on the cover? I will do a post of the movie adaptation soon also.

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  2. Glad you liked this one TracyK - I am a huge fan of the Macdonald books and on the whole think they got better and better as Archer's feelings about people got more and more empathetic - the plots do get get more and more convoluted, though in my view front he late 50s onwards he never lost control of them, to me an admirable trait!

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    1. Sergio, I will probably read The Chill next. Hope I can get to it soon. Looking forward to reading some of the later ones.

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    2. Just read and reviewed The Chill myself - and found Archer's attitude refreshing atypical for a "hardboiled" private eye. Look forward to hearing what you think.

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    3. Puzzle Doctor, I look forward to reading it soon. Your review was encouraging and helpful.

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  3. I'm looking forward to reading him next year. I'll be interested to see if the "sexism" jars with me.

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    1. Col, I hope you like Ross Macdonald's books. I was not offended by his comments about women; but sometimes he was really hard on them without much basis. It will be interesting to get your take on it.

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  4. Tracy - So glad to hear you enjoyed this. I've always thought his work was well-written, and truth be told, I like the Lew Archer character a lot. I understand about the kinds of convolutions there sometimes are in his plots, but still, I've always thought they were great.

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    1. Margot, after I have read two or three more, I will have more of an overview.

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  5. Thanks for the link Tracy. And glad you enjoyed it despite its sexism. Just bear in mind it was written in 1949.

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    1. Jose, I did hesitate to include that sentence about women just because it might be controversial. But there was more than one along those lines, so I though it was worth noting. What I keep in mind is that the one other Ross Macdonald book I have read had very good treatment of black characters; sexism is much less bothersome than racism to me.

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  6. It wasn't considered sexist at the time it was written. You're applying 2014 standards to a book written decades ago, which is both inappropriate and unfair. This is an excellent book and depicts the world as it was at the time Macdonald wrote it.

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    1. Richard, I had to think about what you said for a while. You are probably correct, it would not have been considered sexist at the time. And possibly more men than women read this type of book at the time? But I was not judging his writing or his intentions, just commenting. Statements like that did not impair my enjoyment, but I thought some readers might want to know.

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  7. I'm all for judging books by the standards of their time, but it doesn't seem to me that what you said was excessive, I must politely disagree with the poster above! Nice review: I should read more Macdonald, as I think I said last time you reviewed him...

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    1. Thanks, Moira. I think there are lots of descriptions of clothing in the two books I have read so far, but I will admit was paying more attention to descriptions of the setting in Santa Barbara and L.A. I am eager to read more of this books and Chandler's also, for comparison.

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  8. Good to know this one was the better read, Tracy. I also politely disagree with the poster above. Mentioning the criticism against women was info for readers to absorb and not a judgment. I'm all for judging books for their time period but any info that you feel you must share to your readers is _always_ welcome. Also, very helpful info and precisely why I haven't gotten onto this writer yet. Thanks.

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    1. Thanks, Keishon. Ivory Grin had its good points, but this one entertained me all the way through. Looking forward to more good reads from this author.

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  9. There are very few writers I like more than Ross Macdonald although perhaps his wife, Margaret Millar is one. I always pictured Jim Rockford as Lew Archer.

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    1. I do need to read some Margaret Millar soon, Patti. I did years and years ago but I would be coming from a different perspective now anyway. Jim Rockford is like Lew Archer. Getting into trouble a lot but not really looking for it. And feeling committed to following a case through.

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  10. And then there's me, who doesn't particularly like any of the bad taste "isms," whether or not they're from the time period.
    I just let Rex Stout pass, with Nero Wolfe's and Archie Goodwin's attitudes toward women as the books were written decades ago. But some women friends will not read the books at all. It's offensive to some women who don't want to read that stuff, as racism, anti-Semitism and homophobia are offensive to people, too.
    We all have different taste and tolerances in our reading.
    If something in a book will spoil the enjoyment of reading it, why read it?
    I quit reading Agatha Christie's books at 19 because I was offended by the
    anti-Semitism and xenophobia. The books weren't fun for me.
    So, it's all personal taste.
    Sometimes, readers have to think about the impact of books on various
    groupings of people, unlike themselves, and understand their feelings, too.
    So, I'll skip this book, but I appreciate the free flow of discussion here, and
    I appreciate the point said in the post, so I and others would know.

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    1. Kathy, I did not think this would be your kind of book. On the other hand, you have plenty to read already, so that's good.

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  11. True enough. I think though that some readers should consider other readers' feelings when offensive words or sentiments are expressed in books. It can turn people off to the book ro the writer, in general. It is true. We're all different people with varied backgrounds, family histories, nationalities, religions, cultures, neighborhoods. No one
    is the same, and "no one reads the same book."

    The most important thing is recognizing personal taste in reading. It varies greatly. What one person may love and accept, another may not.

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    1. It is so true, Kathy, that no one reads the same book. In fact, I have found that I am not reading the same book now that I read many years ago. Tastes change, experiences change. I just love reading.

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  12. Yes, good point. Not reading the same book now that one read years ago. I think that's very true, but I read some good ones that stand the test of time, not crime fiction necessarily, but others, although I still laugh at Nero Wolfe, maybe even more than I did in my teens.

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    1. Kathy, some of the Rex Stout books I enjoyed more when I was younger when I did not notice some of the sexist remarks. But I love all of his books and can reread them over and over.

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  13. In studying the Lew Archer novels of Ross Macdonald I’ve tried to identify certain characteristics, themes, motifs, images – call them what you like – that crop up frequently throughout the various books. I don’t claim that the following are particularly important or have any special significance or meaning; nor do I say this is a comprehensive list. They are simply some things I’ve noticed in more than one of the novels. Some of these appear in quite a few of the Archers. In time I hope to post the results of reading through each of the books individually while searching for these ‘repeaters’.
    http://postmoderndeconstructionmadhouse.blogspot.com/2014/12/ross-macdonald-characteristics-of.html#.VMMrA9KUc7V

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  14. That is a very interesting list, Elizabeth. I will be reading more of Macdonald's novels and I will come back and check out some of your other posts on his books too. Thanks for the link.

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