ROSS MACDONALD. Find a Victim (1954).

05 Jun

A promising start and a satisfying finish bracket an often tedious merry-go-round of comings and goings, all of them occurring in and around Las Cruces, California. That’s where private eye Lew Archer, serving in his occasional role as a wandering bard of crime and social dysfunction, veers into one of his earliest recorded cases. Traveling from LA to Sacramento, he spots a man in distress on the side of the road. FindVictim.jpgHis efforts to help the fellow, a long-haul driver with a fresh gunshot wound and a truck full of liquor, entangle Archer in nasty web of local corruption, marital discord, and murder—plenty of murder. The message, told in Archer’s lyrically jaded voice, appears to be that those idyllic-seeming communities just off the main highway are no less troubled than the big, bad cities where gumshoes like Archer usually roam. Once Archer has loosened every last knot of intrigue, what emerges is an ingeniously concealed and morally resonant story, one whose roots lie in an ill-fated parent-child relationship. What precedes that moment of revelation, however, is a garish blur of characters and situations. The people of Las Cruces are all desperate and cheap, undisciplined and oversexed. In scene after scene, they cross words with Archer or cop an attitude with him; all too frequently, they trade blows with him. It all makes for a very contrived form of storytelling, in which piling up one-damned-thing-after-another takes the place of real narrative progression. In later work, Macdonald would tell his patented tale of dark family romance with a lighter, surer touch.


Posted by on June 5, 2013 in American, Hard-Boiled, Novel, Puzzle


5 responses to “ROSS MACDONALD. Find a Victim (1954).

  1. Cavershamragu

    June 7, 2013 at 2:39 AM

    In my recollection the pluses definitely outweighed the minuses in this fairly early Macdonald, but it’s been a while I’ll admit.

    • Mike

      June 7, 2013 at 10:35 AM

      I read this one some time ago, and my review of it (written some time ago) might be unduly sour. But in general I perceive a sharp difference—one that others have noted—between the Archer books that precede “The Galton Case” and those that appeared once Macdonald hit his stride with that novel. In the early books, for example, Archer comes across as dyspeptic and even a bit misanthropic. What he does, and what he says in his role as a narrator, convey the sense that he has a big chip on his shoulder. In the later books, that quality has transmogrified into a sense of world-weary empathy. That not only makes him more appealing; it also allows other characters to seem worthy of our interest and attention. (All the same, it might be unfair to judge all of Macdonald’s work by the standard of his late masterpieces.)

      • Cavershamragu

        June 7, 2013 at 11:48 AM

        All very interesting Mike – there is certainly a huge shift in his works from DOOMSTERS / GALTON but I think you are being a bit harsh as I found Archer more sympathetic than that – but yes, clearly a better character all round later.

  2. Kelly

    November 10, 2013 at 6:29 PM

    I’m surprised to hear “contrived” as a description of Macdonald, but I haven’t read this one, so I can’t weigh in personally. There’s a certain amount of suspension of disbelief that goes along with crime novels of this era –even the best ones have their own sort of reality.

  3. Mike

    November 11, 2013 at 11:41 AM

    Hi, Kelly. Thanks for the comment. Fair point about “suspension of disbelief.” I suppose that “contrivance” is in the eye of the beholder, and when I say that a particular work is “contrived,” I mean that its seams are showing—and that I can’t easily ignore how they look.


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