Tuesday, January 20, 2009
The Drowning Pool
The Drowning Pool is the third of Ross Macdonald's Lew Archer novels that I've read, and the second in the series. Ideally, from a rhetorical standpoint, I would say it's my number 1, but that honor goes to The Blue Hammer, a fantastic and psychologically complex novel that more than earns the lavish praise that critics bestow on Macdonald.
This novel does come in at number two, ahead of the slightly disappointing The Way Some People Die. The thing I like about the Archer novels is that they deal with the evil that men (and women) do and the desperate conditions people find themselves in. In some of the Golden Age stories (I should note here that I'm not putting them down, I've read about 50 Agatha Christie novels) there is a sense that the crime was only committed to provide a puzzle for the reader's enjoyment.
Macdonald is in line with the hard-boiled tradition of Chandler and Hammett, though his prose doesn't crackle with the wit of either and his characters are not as eccentric and memorable. They are however probably two or three shades more realistic.
In The Drowning Pool, the body of a matriarch who holds the purse-strings tightly closed on her son and his wife turns up floating in the backyard pool. Like Chandler's Marlowe novels, there are multiple crimes and also multiple perpetrators, making the actual "solution" almost a secondary concern.
Like The Blue Hammer, The Drowning Pool is an exploration of a family and its secrets, where the detective serves a merely functionary role in the drama. Archer is less of a personality than a Marlowe or any of Hammett P.I.s, but he is admirably resourceful at getting out of the requisite jams and avoiding the requisite femme fatales.
All in all, I'll give it a 7 out of 10.
Next Up: I'm not sure what to read next. I have Bleak House and Howard's End sitting on my shelf, or I could stick with the noir element and read James Cain's Double Indemnity.