December 13, 1915
Los Gatos, California
|Died||July 11, 1983 (aged 67)|
Santa Barbara, California
|Pen name||John Macdonald, John Ross Macdonald, Ross Macdonald|
|Alma mater||University of Western Ontario, University of Michigan|
Ross Macdonald is the main pseudonym that was used by the American-Canadian writer of crime fiction Kenneth Millar (//; December 13, 1915 – July 11, 1983). He is best known for his series of hardboiled novels set in Southern California and featuring private detective Lew Archer.
Millar was born in Los Gatos, California, and raised in his Canadian parents' native Kitchener, Ontario, where he started college. When his father abandoned his family unexpectedly, Macdonald lived with his mother and various relatives, moving several times by his 16th year. In Canada, he graduated from the University of Western Ontario with an Honors degree in History and English. He found work as a high school teacher. Some years later, he attended the University of Michigan and received a PhD in 1952. He met and married Margaret Sturm in 1938. They had a daughter in 1939, Linda, who died in 1970. The family moved from Kitchener to Santa Barbara in 1946.
Millar began his career writing stories for pulp magazines and used his real name for his first four novels. Of these he completed the last, The Dark Tunnel, in 1944. After serving at sea as a naval communications officer from 1944 to 1946, Millar returned to Michigan, where he obtained his Ph.D. degree in literature.
For his fifth novel, in 1949, he wrote under the name John Macdonald in order to avoid confusion with his wife, who was achieving her own success writing as Margaret Millar. He then changed his pen name briefly to John Ross Macdonald, before settling on Ross Macdonald in order to avoid being confused with fellow mystery writer John D. MacDonald, who was writing under his real name. Millar would use the pseudonym "Ross Macdonald" on all his fiction from the mid '50s forward.
Macdonald first introduced the tough but humane private eye Lew Archer in the 1946 short story "Find the Woman" (credited then to "Ken Millar"). A full-length novel featuring him, The Moving Target, followed in 1949 and was the first in a series of eighteen. Macdonald mentions in the foreword to the Archer in Hollywood omnibus that his detective derives his name from Sam Spade's partner, Miles Archer, and from Lew(is) Wallace, author of Ben-Hur, though he was patterned on Philip Marlowe.
The novels were hailed by genre fans and literary critics alike. The Lew Archer novels are recognized as some of the most significant American mystery books of the mid 20th century, bringing a literary sophistication to the genre. The critic John Leonard declared that Macdonald had surpassed the limits of crime fiction to become "a major American novelist". He has also been called the primary heir to Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler as the master of American hardboiled mysteries.
Macdonald's writing built on the pithy style of his predecessors by adding psychological depth and insights into the motivations of his characters. Their plots of "baroque splendor" were complicated and often turned on Archer's unearthing family secrets of upwardly mobile clients, sometimes going back over several generations. Lost or wayward sons and daughters were a theme common to many of the novels. Critics have commented favorably on Macdonald's deft combination of the two sides of the mystery genre, the "whodunit" and the psychological thriller. Even his regular readers seldom saw a Macdonald denouement coming.
Screenwriter William Goldman, who adapted Macdonald's stories to film, called his works "the finest series of detective novels ever written by an American". Paul Newman played the lead role in two of the movies from the books which used the titles Harper and The Drowning Pool while Peter Graves starred in the TV movie The Underground Man.
Tom Nolan in his Ross Macdonald, A Biography, wrote, "By any standard he was remarkable. His first books, patterned on Hammett and Chandler, were at once vivid chronicles of a postwar California and elaborate retellings of Greek and other classic myths. Gradually he swapped the hard-boiled trappings for more subjective themes: personal identity, the family secret, the family scapegoat, the childhood trauma; how men and women need and battle each other, how the buried past rises like a skeleton to confront the present. He brought the tragic drama of Freud and the psychology of Sophocles to detective stories, and his prose flashed with poetic imagery."
"... it is the sheer beauty of Macdonald’s laconic style—with its seductive rhythms and elegant plainness—that holds us spellbound. 'Hard-boiled,' 'noir,' 'mystery,' it doesn’t matter what you call it. Macdonald, with insolent grace, blows past the barrier constructed by Dorothy Sayers between “the literature of escape” and “the literature of expression.” These novels, triumphs of his literary alchemy, dare to be both."
According to a New York Times article, "some critics ranked him among the best American novelists of his generation". William Goldman of the newspaper's Book Review section wrote that the Archer books were "the finest series of detective novels ever written by an American".
Over his career, Macdonald was presented with several awards. In 1964, the Mystery Writers of America awarded the author the Silver Dagger award for "The Chill." Ten years later, he received the Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America, and in 1982 he received "The Eye", the Lifetime Achievement Shamus Award from the Private Eye Writers of America. In 1982, he was awarded the Robert Kirsch Award by the Los Angeles Times for "an outstanding body of work by an author from the West or featuring the West."
Chet Gordon (as Kenneth Millar)
Lew Archer novels
- The Moving Target – 1949 (filmed with Paul Newman as Harper, 1966)
- The Drowning Pool – 1950 (also filmed with Paul Newman as The Drowning Pool, 1975)
- The Way Some People Die – 1951
- The Ivory Grin (aka Marked for Murder) – 1952
- Find a Victim – 1954
- The Barbarous Coast – 1956
- The Doomsters – 1958
- The Galton Case – 1959
- The Wycherly Woman – 1961
- The Zebra-Striped Hearse – 1962
- The Chill – 1964
- The Far Side of the Dollar – 1965 (1965 CWA Gold Dagger Award winner)
- Black Money – 1966
- The Instant Enemy – 1968
- The Goodbye Look – 1969 (filmed as Tayna 1992)
- The Underground Man – 1971 (filmed as a television series pilot in 1974)
- Sleeping Beauty – 1973
- The Blue Hammer – 1976
- The Archer Files, The Complete Short Stories of Lew Archer Private Investigator, Including Newly Discovered Case Notes, ed. Tom Nolan – Crippen & Landru, 2007. This contains the contents of The Name Is Archer, the additional stories in Lew Archer, Private Investigator, and the three stories in Strangers in Town. The story "Death by Water" is changed (with the estate's permission) to feature Lew Archer rather than Joe Rogers. The book also includes eleven "case notes" – beginnings of novels or short stories that Macdonald never completed. The story Guilt-Edged Blonde was adapted into the 2002 French film The Wolf Of The West Coast (Le loup de la côte ouest).
Lew Archer short story collections
- The Name is Archer (paperback original containing seven stories) – 1955
- Lew Archer: Private Investigator (The Name is Archer + two additional stories) – 1977
- Strangers in Town (Two of the three short stories include Lew Archer; one,"Death by Water," features Joe Rogers) – Crippen & Landru, 2001
Lew Archer omnibuses
- Archer in Hollywood – 1967 includes The Moving Target, The Way Some People Die, and The Barbarous Coast.
- Archer at Large – 1970 includes The Galton Case, The Chill, and Black Money.
- Archer in Jeopardy – 1979 includes The Doomsters, The Zebra-Striped Hearse, and The Instant Enemy.
- Archer, P.I.—includes The Ivory Grin, The Zebra-Striped Hearse and The Underground Man. Mystery Guild, 1990. Collects three Vintage Crime/Black Lizard printings.
- Ross MacDonald: Four Novels of the 1950s - May 2015, Library of America, includes The Way Some People Die, The Barbarous Coast, The Doomsters, and The Galton Case.
- Ross MacDonald: Three Novels of the Early 1960s - April 2016, Library of America, includes The Zebra-Striped Hearse, The Chill and The Far Side of the Dollar.
- Ross MacDonald: Four Later Novels - July 2017, Library of America, includes Black Money, The Instant Enemy, The Goodbye Look, and The Underground Man
Allison & Busby published three Archer omnibus editions in the 1990s.
- The Lew Archer Omnibus. Vol. 1. includes The Drowning Pool, The Chill and The Goodbye Look.
- The Lew Archer Omnibus. Vol. 2. includes The Moving Target, The Barbarous Coast, and The Far Side of a Dollar.
- The Lew Archer Omnibus. Vol. 3. includes The Ivory Grin, The Galton Case, and The Blue Hammer.
Millar's first four novels, all non-series standalones, were all initially published using his real name. They have since been intermittently reissued, sometimes as by "Ross Macdonald".
Two later non-series novels were also published. One was credited to John Ross Macdonald, the other simply to Ross Macdonald.
Writing as Kenneth Millar
- Blue City – 1947 (filmed with Judd Nelson as Blue City, 1986)
- The Three Roads – 1948 (filmed with Michael Sarrazin as Deadly Companion, 1980)
Writing as John Ross Macdonald
- Meet Me at the Morgue (aka Experience With Evil) – 1953
Writing as Ross Macdonald
- The Ferguson Affair – 1960
- On Crime Writing – 1973, Santa Barbara : Capra Press, Series title: Yes! Capra chapbook series; no. 11, The Library of Congress bibliographic information includes this note: "Writing The Galton case."
- Self-Portrait, Ceaselessly Into the Past – 1981, Santa Barbara : Capra Press, collection of book prefaces, magazine articles and interviews.
- Flash From the Past: Raised in Kitchener, read around the world 23 October 2020
- Ross Macdonald Invented Modern Detective Lew Archer 13 October 2015
- Flash From the Past: Famous 20th century private eye is rooted in Kitchener July 10, 2020
- Baker, Robert Allen and Michael T. Nietzel (1985). Private Eyes: One Hundred and One Knights : a Survey of American Detective Fiction, 1922–1984. Bowling Green KY: Popular Press. p. 53. ISBN 978-0879723293.
- J. Kingston Pierce, "50 Years with Lew Archer: An Anniversary Tribute to Ross Macdonald and his Heroice Yet Passionate Private Eye", January Magazine.
- Nickerson, Catherine Ross (2010). "The Detective Story", in A Companion to the American Short Story, edited by Alfred Bendixen & James Nagel. New York: John Wiley & Sons. p. 425. ISBN 978-1405115438.
- Miller, Wilbur R. (2012). The Social History of Crime and Punishment in America: An Encyclopedia. Los Angeles: Sage. p. 1019. ISBN 978-1412988766.
- Geoffrey O'Brien, Hardboiled America, Van Norstrand Reinhold, 1981, pp.125-8
- Jones, Tobias (July 31, 2009). "A passion for mercy". The Guardian. Retrieved May 19, 2013.
- Connolly, John and Declan Burke (2012). Books to Die For: The World's Greatest Mystery Writers on the World's Greatest Mystery Novels. London: Hodder & Stoughton. ISBN 978-1451696578.
- Ross Macdonald Invented Modern Detective Lew Archer 13 October 2015
- Tom Nolan, Ross Macdonald, A Biography, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1999 ISBN 0-684-81217-7
- Review: Hard-Boiled in California 23 November 2017
- Ross Macdonald - A Biography By Tom Nolan
- Mystery Writer Ross Macdonald, 67, Dies July 13, 1983
- Ronnie Scheib, The Wolf of the West Coast, Variety, 23 September 2002
This article includes a list of general references, but it remains largely unverified because it lacks sufficient corresponding inline citations. (April 2009) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)
- Bruccoli, Matthew J. Ross Macdonald. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1984. ISBN 0-15-179009-4 | ISBN 0-15-679082-3
- "Ross Macdonald: Family Affairs" in S. T. Joshi, Varieties of Crime Fiction, pp.97-106, (Wildside Press, 2019) ISBN 978-1-4794-4546-2
- Kreyling, Michael. "The Novels of Ross Macdonald" University of South Carolina Press, 2005. ISBN 1-57003-577-6
- Nolan, Tom. Ross Macdonald: A Biography. New York: Scribner, 1999. ISBN 0-684-81217-7
- Nolan, Tom. "The Archer Files". Crippen & Landru 2007
- Schopen, Bernard A., "Ross MacDonald", Twayne Publishers, Boston, 1990. ISBN 0-8057-7548-X
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Ross Macdonald|
- Marling, William. Hard-Boiled Fiction. Case Western Reserve University
- The Ross Macdonald Files
- "50 Years with Lew Archer: An Anniversary Tribute to Ross Macdonald and His Heroic Yet Compassionate Private Eye," by J. Kingston Pierce, January Magazine, April 1999.