29 September 2009

Black Money, by Ross MacDonald

Vintage Crime 1996, copyright 1965. ISBN 0679768106. 238 pages.

I recall being introduced many years ago to Ross MacDonald's work by someone who said MacDonald was a latter-day Raymond Chandler. I suppose that was true, latter day being the 60s rather than the 30s, but that was a long time ago. (Incidentally, the author's real name was Kenneth Millar. Click on the title of this entry for a link to a detailed article about Millar/MacDonald's life and work.)

In Black Money, Lew Archer is hired by a wealthy young man who has lost the girl of his dreams to a man who appears to be some kind of a scoundrel. Martel claims to be from France, a political refugee unpopular with the DeGaulle regime. Young Virginia Fablon is very much taken with Martel, and cannot be persuaded to see him as anyone other than who he claims to be.

Virginia's father died in what was judged a suicide about seven years before this story takes place. Her mother is beginning to find it difficult to maintain a lifestyle such as that enjoyed by her neighbors in this seaside country-club community of the rich.

When Archer begins to investigate Martel, he is met with threats, and soon senses a greater mystery than the simple seduction of young Virginia by this mysterious and unlikely man.

As one always expects in MacDonald's work, there are great characters, a deviously complicated plot, and plenty of gritty observations from the narrator, Lew Archer. This is the hardboiled detective formula at its very best, and every page is a pleasure.

The lobby of the hotel was the mouth of a tourist trap which had lost its bite. There were scuff-marks on the furniture, dust on the philodendrons. The bellhop wore an old blue uniform which looked as if he had fought through the Civil War in it.

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