Wednesday, September 30, 2020

The Way Some People Die: Ross Macdonald

This is the third Lew Archer book by Ross Macdonald. The private detective is trying to find a missing woman for her mother. The daughter, Galatea (or "Galley" to friends) is twenty five and very beautiful; the mother hasn't heard from her in about three months. Archer tells the mother that this type of case is for the police; she doesn't want the police involved.  For $50, he starts looking in Pacific Point.

Lew Archer travels over a good bit of California in this novel, starting in Los Angeles, then to Pacific Point (a fictionalized version of La Jolla), Palm Springs and San Francisco. I could hardly keep up. He meets a lot of questionable people, mobsters and swindlers. The characters are great, and people are seldom what they seem to be initially. 

The plot is very convoluted; I don't remember having so much trouble following the story in the first two novels in the series. However, I have no trouble at all following Lew Archer through the twists and turns of the plot as long as the writing is well done, with lovely descriptions and interesting dialog.

Archer goes to the place where Galley used to live:

The court consisted of ten small stucco bungalows ranged five on each side of a gravel driveway that led to the garages at the rear. The first bungalow had a wooden office sign over the door, with a cardboard NO VACANCY sign attached to it. There were two acacia trees in the front yard, blanketed with yellow chenille-like blossoms.

When I got out of the car a mockingbird swooped from one of the trees and dived for my head. I gave him a hard look and he flew up to a telephone wire and sat there swinging back and forth and laughing at me. The laughter actually came from a red-faced man in dungarees who was sitting in a deck-chair under the tree. His mirth brought on some sort of an attack, probably asthmatic. He coughed and choked and wheezed, and the chair creaked under his weight and his face got redder. When it was over he removed a dirty straw hat and wiped his bare red pate with a handkerchief.

This introduces Mr. Raisch, Galley's former landlord. He and Archer have an entertaining conversation about Galley and the many people who have visited Raisch trying to find her.

I am aiming to read all the books by Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald. Macdonald wrote over twice as many books as Chandler. There are 18 Lew Archer novels and Chandler wrote only 7 Philip Marlowe mysteries.  Right now they are running neck and neck as far as my opinion of their books and writing. Chandler's books are more confusing, less focused on plotting. Macdonald's plots are more logical and coherent, although this one was challenging. And they both write very well and are a pleasure to read.

When I reviewed Shooting at Loons by Margaret Maron in August, I noted that I really liked the cover by Gary Kelley. He was a new illustrator to me, and I had not noticed other book covers by him. Shortly after that, I found that my copy of The Way Some People Die has a cover by Gary Kelley also. Not as striking as the one for Shooting at Loons, but still very nice.


Publisher: Warner Books, 1990 (first publ. 1951)
Length:    195 pages
Format:    Paperback
Series:     Lew Archer #3
Setting:    California 
Genre:     Mystery
Source:    I purchased my copy at the 2016 Planned Parenthood book sale.


pattinase (abbott) said...

I bought a Macdonal recently with the intention of rereading it but somehow I end up reading books from the library. Always a problem for me.

Margot Kinberg said...

I've always liked the way Macdonald portrayed California, Tracy. And I agree with you that his characters are very strong. His Lew Archer is a solid detective, too, and interesting to follow - glad you enjoyed this outing.

Rick Robinson said...

I started reading Macdonald in a haphazard way, but after two went to the beginning and read the first two. That was a long time ago, and the next one I read was Zebra-Striped Hearse. So I don’t know if I ever got to this one, but I want to.

Every time I read a Macdonald book I wonder why I don’t read more of them, then I wander off in some other direction. Damn.

CLM said...

I have not read Ross MacDonald but this is an intriguing post. However, it took me in an unexpected direction, remembering finding The Bungalow Mystery, one of the first Nancy Drews I read, probably in second or third grade from my school library. I remember very clearly (although it was more than 50 years ago - ouch) being puzzled about what a bungalow was. It was clearly a time before I had learned about dictionaries. What a different experience my nephews and nieces have - sometimes they have googled a question before I have even finished formulating it. I am not sure they get the same satisfaction I got once I learned how to use reference materials but it sure beats wondering what a bungalow is!

TracyK said...

Sorry, for all of today my email notifications have been going into spam (and some other things too). I will have to pay more attention to that.

TracyK said...

Patti, I often have plans for reading that get waylaid by other books, and it happens even more often now. I am sure you will get to rereading that Macdonald when it is a good time. I have not read that many books by Macdonald, I need to catch up.

TracyK said...

Margot, I am reading the Ross Macdonald biography by Tom Nolan right now, and that is motivating me to read more of the books (plus this one on my 20 book of Summer list, which I really want to finish.

TracyK said...

Rick, the first Ross Macdonald I read was The Ivory Grin, and that was not the best introduction, so I decided to go in order from the beginning.

TracyK said...

Constance, I agree with you that the old methods of research were more satisfying, but google is wonderful sometimes. I loved doing research, and I had a great teacher in elementary school that insisted we know how to do a research paper. Living in California now (for many years) I can picture a bungalow but when I was younger it would have been puzzling.

Rick Robinson said...

So I see this is the third in the Archer series. If I have it on the shelf, I'll read it soon.

TracyK said...

Rick, if you do get to read it I would love to know what you thought of it.

Barry Ergang said...

Chandler and Macdonald have been two of my favorites since I discovered them in my teens (back in the Dark Ages). Chandler cared little for plots, and the novels--with the possible exception of THE LADY IN THE LAKE--prove it. Characterization and style ranked supreme for him. THE LONG GOODBYE ranks for me and many others as his masterpiece. Personally, it's my favorite novel of all time, genre notwithstanding.

Macdonald, on the other hand, besides being a master, like Chandler, of an exceptional prose style, could plot hardboiled private eye fiction as well as any exemplar of traditional Golden Age whodunits--with the addition of strong characterizations many a traditional lacked. In my estimation, THE CHILL is his masterwork and might well deliver a gasp or chill in its climactic revelation.

TracyK said...

Thanks for those comments, Barry. I have come very late to Chandler and Macdonald. I look forward to reading THE LONG GOODBYE, and I only have two books to read before I get there. It will take me longer to get to THE CHILL, if I continue to read Ross Macdonald's books in order. I have a lot of good reading ahead of me.

col2910 said...

Good luck with your mission Tracy. I read my first Ross Macdonald book earlier this year aand enjoyed it. I hope to get to the second Archer book soon.

TracyK said...

Col, I recently finished reading the Ross Macdonald biography by Tom Nolan and I am even more motivated to read more of Macdonald's books. He was a very interesting person. Some readers complained he wrote the same book over and over but I will find out for myself.