Friday, December 24, 2010

Forgotten Books: THE DROWNING POOL -- Ross Macdonald

The Drowning Pool (1950) is the second novel to feature private-eye Lew Archer. I have several copies of it, but when I saw one for a buck the other day, I couldn't resist picking it up. And then I figured it might be fun to read it again. It was.

Ross Macdonald was still feeling his way with this one, so the style isn't what it would be come, but The Drowning Pool has the themes that would occupy him for the rest of his career: dysfunctional families, the sins of the fathers setting their children's teeth on edge, the changing face of California (Ross Mac saw the same sorts of things happening there that John D. Mac saw happening in Florida), the conflict of the generations, and the widening gap between the rich and poor.

Lew Archer's client is a woman who's received a blackmail letter. She doesn't want to tell Archer anything about herself or her family, but he takes the job. Working pretty much in the dark, he begins to turn up plenty of secrets that everybody would like to keep covered, secrets that lead to murder. Typically, even when Archer is supposed to be off the case, he keeps on digging. He can never let go until he finds all the answers.

Macdonald isn't as popular now as his progenitors, Hammett and Chandler. Some readers complain that the plots develop too slowly, and The Drowning Pool doesn't have a murder until more than 60 pages have gone by. Macdonald is more interested in setting up the characters than in presenting a murder on the first page. Other readers might find the book a bit dated. It's not, certainly, in its environmental concerns, though the treatment of homosexuality is a bit off-putting to modern eyes. Still, the narrative works just fine for me, pulling me a long as easily as it did the first time I read the book, nearly 50 years ago. There's even some snappy patter that Spenser would envy.

While this book isn't Macdonald's best, it's still quite good. Macdonald could plot, and he could write. It's no wonder that Macdonald remains one of my favorite p. i. writers.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

It's been a long time since I've read a Lew Archer book and I keep meaning to go back and read the ones I missed when I was racing through the series. First thing I need to do is make a list of what I haven't read yet, I suppose.

I definitely have read this one - in 1973. I notice you didn't mention that they filmed the first two in the series with Paul Newman.

OK - made my list. I'm embarrassed to say it's longer than I thought.

Jeff

Bill Crider said...

The film of this one was, I thought, pretty bad, but Melanie Griffith was okay.

Anonymous said...

I guess it killed the franchise, because I remember the first one (HARPER) as being pretty good.

Jeff

PS - OK, now I'll check the pb exchange to see how many of the ones I need I can pick up there.

Anonymous said...

I picked up six books I was missing from the exchange. That's the benefit of having a lot of credits.

Jeff

Todd Mason said...

The only Macdonald I've even been slightly disappointed by so far has been one of everyone else's favorites, THE CHILL. Very slightly, since I was built up for it. But then, I started with THE BLUE HAMMER, and liked that a lot.

Todd Mason said...

I've posted a FFB link list due to Patti's holiday (and upcoming birthday)...