During my short-lived time in southern California I had plenty of time for reading being virtually friendless and often poverty stricken. Naturally I turned my attention to Chandler and gained a deep appreciation for him. Which led naturally to the discovery of Ross MacDonald.
Considered by many to be the successor to Chandler’s crown, he developed the California detective icon originally created by Dashiel Hammett with Lew Archer, a man as cultured as he was hard-boiled.
A fairly complex and often incredible plot that didn’t bear too much thinking about, often accompanied the crackling dialogue of Chandler. MacDonald by comparison has intricate plots that drive the story and expose the cracks in American society. Many of his books seem to revolve the uncovering of a deep dark secret within a noted family (see ‘The Galton Case’ and ‘The Chill’ for example)
They also began to use the relatively new science of criminal psychology in a way not dreamt of by Chandler. It leads to the creation of a strange and off-kilter world that is seedy and yet oddly glamorous.
The more I read of him the more I see the influence on other LA crime noir writers like James Ellroy.
Ellroy takes the same idea of corruption at the heart of American life and ups the depravity for the end of the twentieth century.
This unholy trinity, Chandler, MacDonald and Ellroy has immortalized a mythical City of Angels for the world but I think it is MacDonald who remains the most under appreciated, possibly because his detective never become as famous as Philip Marlowe or Sam Spade. Yet in the words of screenwriter William Goldman he wrote perhaps the ‘finest series of Detective novels ever written by an American.’