Some of my work on Updike was discussed on The Dish with Andrew Sullivan.
Some of my work on Ross Macdonald was discussed on Pretty Sinister Books.
Here is my interview with superstar music impresario Wendy Starland.
Here is my interview with Pulitzer Prize nominee Olympia Vernon.
Here is my interview with the editor of Best American Short Stories, Heidi Pitlor.
Here is my interview with acclaimed artist Emil Kazaz.
My musing on John D. Macdonald, Travis McGee, and the chicks was picked up on The Rap Sheet.

Ross Macdonald: Archerian Characteristics: The Moving Target




In studying the Lew Archer novels of Ross Macdonald I’ve tried to identify certain characteristics, themes, motifs, images – call them what you like – that crop up frequently throughout the various books.  I don’t claim that the following are particularly important or have any special significance or meaning; nor do I say this is a comprehensive list.  They are simply some things I’ve noticed in more than one of the novels.  Some of these appear in quite a few of the Archers.  In time I hope to post the results of reading through each of the books while searching for these ‘repeaters’.

Below I reproduce the list and apply it to The Moving Target.  I’m using the Vintage/Black Lizard edition from March, 1998.

1.     The Archer code – money is unimportant, or at any rate less important than moving in and out of people’s lives.  Betty Fraley offers to let Archer keep the $100,000 ransom money for Sampson if he lets her go.  He refuses.
2.     The excellence of the portrayal of minor characters.  Not as strong here as it will be in coming novels in the series, though the Sampson’s houseman, Felix, is excellently done.
3.     The “look into the past”.  Nothing.
4.     The ecology and sociology of CaliforniaA subplot of the novel concerns smuggling in illegal immigrants, and there are several intense passages about the Pacific.
5.     The excellence of the similes.  In every Archer novel they are almost too numerous to quote and mention.  Here are two: “The bitterness had come through in her voice, buzzing like a wasp.” (p. 7)  “
6.     The influence of World War Two.  “Bob Sampson was a flier, too.  Shot down over Sakashima.”  (p. 17) “I ran a town in Bavaria for two years.  Military Government.” (p.20)
7.     The convergence of the past and the present.  Nothing.
8.     What Ross Macdonald himself called “smothered allegiance and uncertain identity”.  Nada.
9.     Bitten fingernails.  Nothing on this in this novel.
10.   Eyebrows. Nothing on this in this novel.
11.   Female breasts.  “Her light brown coat fell open in front, and her small sweatered breasts, pointed like weapons, were half impatient promise, half gradual threat.” (p. 107)
12.  Suntans. “She was very lean and brown, tanned so dark that her flesh seemed hard.” (p. 5)
13.     A character in a case expressing surprise at how much Archer knows about them.  She uttered a groan of surprise and shock…”What do you know about Taggert?”  (p. 219)
14.      Rich people are unhappy.  It’s virtually a given in every Archer novel and doesn’t require any elucidation.  It’s a jaundiced view; study after study after study shows that in proportion the rich are no more unhappy than anybody else.
15.      Archer displays knowledge he shouldn’t have about the arts or literature; Macdonald cannot resist the temptation.  “And I was talking a hell of a lot, talking like somebody out of Miles Standish.” (p. 98)  On p. 166 Archer uses the word “prognathous”.   On p. 199, “sibilant”. Come on!!
16.   “Something” as in “Are you a detective or something?”  “Something.”   ““I’m not exactly sure why you’re here.  Is it to track Ralph down, or something like that?”  “Something like that.”(p. 13)
17.  Old letters.  It’s not quite an old letter but similar in function – on p. 30 Archer finds an old photo of Fay Estabrook that she had autographed for Sampson.  And two letters composed in the present play important roles.
18.    Overheard conversations.  From p. 150 – 153 Archer eavesdrops on Marcie and Puddler.  On p. 206 he does so with Troy, Marcie, Fay Estabrook, and Betty Fraley.
19.   Eyes.  “I looked down into her eyes, the eyes of something frightened and sick hiding in the fine brown body.” (p.6)  “Mrs. Estabrook looked up at us with eyes like dark searchlights.” (p. 49)   “His opaque black eyes were their own mask.” (p. 170)  “Her eyes were glistening like wet brown pebbles.” (p. 203)
20.   Britishisms.  “On the chesterfield in front of the dead fireplace…” (p. 29)

BEST QUOTE OF THE BOOK: “The operator was a frozen virgin who dreamed about men at night and hated them in the daytime.” (p.27)




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