Throughout his career, Ross Macdonald—the pen name of Kenneth Millar—was hailed as the true heir to Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler as master of the hardboiled mystery. But accolades beyond the reach of a genre writer still eluded him—until towards the end of his career, when he was finally acknowledged as not “only” a crime writer but a highly regarded American novelist. Macdonald subverted the genre by delivering the riddles and intricacies demanded of the crime novel in language that could be stark but also subtly nuanced and beautifully cadenced, while never slowing the requisite pace or diluting the excitement. In doing so he silenced those naysayers who had previously scoffed at the idea that the humble detective novel could possess any intrinsic literary worth. Praise finally came from both sides of the literary divide, with James Ellroy acknowledging his debt to Macdonald’s Lew Archer books and Eudora Welty lauding him as “a more serious and complex writer than Chandler and Hammett ever were.” Five of the gripping Lew Archer novels have just become part of the U.K. Penguin modern classics series. For many, this anointment is long overdue.
The Underground Man is the only Lew Archer mystery I’ve read. It’s enjoyable. The private eye helping out the lost hippie kids. Like Altman’s Marlow without the satire.