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July 8, 2009 / C.T. Henry

REVIEW: The Chill by Ross MacDonald

the chillSynopsis: In The Chill a distraught young man hires Archer to track down his runaway bride. But no sooner has he found Dolly Kincaid than Archer finds himself entangled in two murders, one twenty years old, the other so recent that the blood is still wet. What ensues is a detective novel of nerve-racking suspense, desperately believable characters, and one of the most intricate plots ever spun by an American crime writer.

Review: While The Chill eventually comes together in the end, this was one mystery that I had to trust the reputation of the author.  I don’t know how many of today’s authors I would have trusted with such a convoluted plot.  What starts out as a missing woman’s case unravels to reveal two murders separated by decades. There’s no reason why the older murder might be connected to the present case, but P.I. Lew Archer has a hunch.

Even though I liked Archer’s doggedness and questioning style, it was very difficult to keep track of the multitude of names in the story. I also expected this “classic” hard-boiled mystery to be written in the terse style of Chandler and Hammett, but it was surprisingly easy to read, without any memorable one-liners or literary flourish. Nonetheless, if realism is the main criteria, McDonald’s Archer definitely behaves like an authentic private eye.

While some hard-boiled critics swear by Ross MacDonald, I wouldn’t put The Chill in the same league as Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon or Chandler’s The Big Sleep.  However, I was impressed enough by the character of Lew Archer to read MacDonald’s other reputable mystery, The Drowning Pool, in the near future.

Verdict: GOOD BUT NOT GREAT (Translation: Recommended with some reservations)


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  1. Hard Boiled / Jul 10 2009 3:20 pm

    I don’t know which Ross Macdonald to recommend. I have read them all I think. I even found one of his short story collections to read. I’m not sure I would say Macdonald is like Chandler and Hammet in style, but more of a progression from them. Next generation I’d call him.
    For instance I just read Hammett’s Red Harvest and thought it was NOTHING like Ross Macdonald. Not only was Red Harvest hard boiled, it was OVER BOILED. There were dead bodies every fifteen pages. I liked it though.
    What I like about R. Macdonald is the quick read aspect of his novels and yet they don’t lose anything for being so short. I find his novels and characters smooth, cool, and complicated. As soon as I finish one I want to read another…and another. By the time you read 20 of his books you’ll wish he hadn’t passed away.


  2. Best Reads of 2009 (so far) « The Mystery Bookshelf

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