Friday, November 08, 2013

FFB: The Drowning Pool -- Ross Macdonald


A long, long time ago, I can still remember . . . .  Well, actually I can't remember the first time I read Ross Macdonald.  I can just remember how impressed I was by the book I'd picked up and  how it made me want to read everything else by the author.  And eventually I did read everything else, or just about everything.  I was so entranced by his writing and that of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler that I figured I might even be able to talk someone into letting me write a doctoral dissertation on their books.  And I did.  I owe those three guys a lot.

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.

This post originally appeared on 12/24/10, minus the first paragraph, which has been added for this appearance.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

The first Macdonald I read was probably the best - THE CHILL.

Jeff

Bill Crider said...

That's probably my favorite.

George said...

When I read the Lew Archer novels in order back in the 1970s, I really liked THE DROWNING POOL. As you point out, Macdonald hasn't perfected his approach yet, but a lot of his themes are in this early book.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Would like to read that dissertation. That's how Megan got her feet wet too.

Bill Crider said...

It's deadly dull. Robert B. Parker was working on his dissertation on the same topic at the same time, by the way. Neither of us was aware of the other. I haven't read his, and I'm sure he never read mine.

Kelly Robinson said...

I love reading your reviews (and all the other FFB-ers), but I think I like them best of all when there's a personal connection. Thanks for sharing yours.

Bill Crider said...

I agree, Kelly. I like those personal connections.

Richard said...

I think I read this one shortly after reading THE GALTON CASE which was terrific. By comparison, I didn't think that much of this one, and I haven't tried it again and probably won't as there are many better RM books I haven't read (much to my surprise when I started deciding what to read for today).

Just in from the library vis interloan this morning: THE NOVELS OF ROSS MACDONALD by Michael Kreyling. What timing.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

A few years from now I hope to look back and think of all the hardboiled fiction I read including every novel by Ross Macdonald.

Bill Crider said...

A good way to spend some time.

Barry Ergang said...

The first Macdonald I read was a short story in the unfortunately short-lived Ed McBain's Mystery Book when I was in my early teens. His style and approach hooked me, and I gradually accumulated and read the novels, all of which I still have. I think The Chill is his masterwork.

Bill Crider said...

Several of us would agree with you about The Chill, Barry.