Detective noir has always interested me ; from my first taste by reading James Ellroy’s The Black Dahlia, the total immersion that was in playing Rock star games L.A Noire or watching the Monroe’s first screen outing in The Asphalt Jungle and Jessica Alba’s performance in The killer inside me. You can forget your Law and Orders where although flawed the good guys always come out whiter than white and are never in any peril. True detective fiction for me was gum shoes from the 1930 to the 1950’s , well the genre has a whole. I like my detectives as I like my eggs hard boiled (Not sure if that has ever been used before so I am claiming it).
After my bold claims above it turns out I haven’t read any Ross MacDonald and I knew nothing about his ex cop come private dick Lew Archer. Archer embodies the genre as much as Spade and Marlow. MacDonald writes with the rhythm and pace that has become synonymous with noir.
And with his embodiment of both character and style MacDonald give us Archer’s first case. Moving target. Moving Target see our detective Archer on the case of the missing oil tycoon Ralph Sampson. Archer has his suspects Mrs Sampson, Ralph’s Daughter Maranda Sampson, Alan Tagget Sampson’s personal pilot and Maranda’s love interest and there is a fading movie star and psychic who could also be involved. There is even a cult leader who lives on a mountain.
All the tropes are there Archer encounters heavies, men with secrets, thugs and where would a hard boiled detective be without the femme_fatale? Archer encounters enough of them.
This isn’t your down-town L.A story Archer moves around suburban L.A visiting dive bars and seedy hotels. MacDonald keeps his detective away from the hustle and bustle of the bright lights, proving that suburban L.A can be just as dangerous,
Archer is a likeable character and MacDonald is not scared to have his Character knocked out, shot at or worse.
The story may be formulaic but MacDonald and Archer keeps the reader gripped enough through the story. With enough twist and changes in direction to keep the story fresh with out being confusing , but at the end of it and the dust settles it is a kidnapping story and they can only turn out a few ways.
With the above said it is a worth wile read. Archer has the right balance of forthrightness , flaws and sarcasm to be enjoyable.