Wednesday, 11 August 2010

The Moving Target - Ross Macdonald

As someone who much enjoys the work of Hammett and Chandler, it seemed only right that at some stage I would seek out Macdonald’s books. That it has taken so long is a bit of a mystery. I knew he was considered the heir to Hammett and Chandler, but somehow I had never got round to reading any of his work. It’s something I’ll be putting right in the near future.

Although not his first novel, this is the first of a series to feature his private eye Lew Archer. Archer is cast in the same mould as others of his ilk. He has been a policeman, served in Intelligence during the Second World War, has a broken marriage, is something of a tough guy, but is not as tough as he acts. Because his inner world is available to us through the use of first person narrative.

In the same West coast settings as Hammett and Chandler, Macdonald explores the same territory and uses the same settings, yet we have a view of the world that is from a slightly different perspective. This is partly due to the fact that Macdonald takes up the reins in the post-war era. I’m looking forward to his work written in the 60s to see how he observes the social changes of the time.

In The Moving Target, he notes how some men who flourished in a combat situation had trouble readjusting to civilian life and often fell into trouble or made a concerted move into a life of crime. This is introduced as a natural part of the story (a kidnap caper that goes wrong and exposes the ways in which upright citizens can be corrupted by the influence and presence of the corrupt).

By the time Macdonald wrote this book, he was had already proved himself as a writer. It is somewhat lacking in variations of pace. In part that is the race-against-time element of the story, but a few moments to draw breath would have produced greater contrast for the tension. Apart from that, this is a slick novel that pays great attention to detail, not just in terms of plot and character, but in the mechanics of writing as well.

It’s always a joy to find a ‘new’ author whose books one enjoys. I can see lots of pleasurable reading ahead.