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May 5, 2011 / C.T. Henry

20 Must Read Hard Boiled Classics – Part 3 of 4

The 60s and 70s marked the return of the gumshoe.  Picking up the baton dropped by Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, Ross MacDonald became the undisputed successor of their economical prose and well crafted detective plots.   Nonetheless, many critics regard MacDonald as superior to his predecessors due to his characterization of Lew Archer.  Instead of the superhero crusader, Archer is more complex and flawed.

John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee is one of the great characters in crime fiction and will always be remembered fondly.  A lady’s man with a 52-foot barge-type houseboat in Florida sunshine, who could ask for anything more?  In many ways, McGee is the precursor to Robert Crais’ Elvis Cole or Lee Child’s Jack Reacher.  The winning combination of McGee’s affable personality and MacDonald’s terse writing style made the series into an instant best-seller.  However, as someone who prefers darker novels, Florida’s sunny setting is a bit too blinding.

My favorite hard-boiled writer is James Crumley.   Although he comes from the tradition of Hammett and Chandler, Crumley’s engaging prose is on such a high level that few will ever match it.  C.W. Sughrue is also as hard-edged as detectives come.  If you’re a cynic and don’t mind reading about how sleazy people can be, James Crumley is definitely your man.

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The Drowning Pool by Ross MacDonald (1950)

Synopsis:

When a millionaire matriarch is found floating face-down in the family pool, the prime suspects are her good-for-nothing son and his seductive teenage daughter. In The Drowning Pool, Lew Archer takes this case in the L.A. suburbs and encounters a moral wasteland of corporate greed and family hatred–and sufficient motive for a dozen murders.

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The Chill by Ross MacDonald (1964)

Synopsis:

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.

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The Deep Blue Good-by by John D. MacDonald (1964)

Synopsis:

He’s a self-described beach bum who won his houseboat in a card game. He’s also a knight errant who’s wary of credit cards, retirement benefits, political parties, mortgages, and television. He only works when his cash runs out and his rule is simple: he’ll help you find whatever was taken from you, as long as he can keep half….

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The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley (1978)

Synopsis:

An unforgettable detective story starring C.W. Sughrue, a Montana investigator who kills time by working at a topless bar.  First he’s hired to track down a foolhardy author before he drinks himself into an early grave, but once C.W. finds the author, he stays on and reluctantly agrees to take on the bar owner’s hopeless case: to find a daughter who’s been missing for ten years.

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Next Post: 20 Must Read Hard Boiled Classics – Part 4 of 4

Previous Post: 20 Must Read Hard Boiled Classics – Part 3 of 4

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