this is the 126th in my series of posts on forgotten or seldom read books
The Zebra-Striped Hearse by Ross Macdonald © 1962, originally published by Alfred A. Knopf, May 1962 hardcover.
This edition: Bantam Books mass market paperback, 13th printing May 1988 – mystery, the 10th Lew Archer novel
It had been so long since I read one of Ross Macdonald’s novels I wasn’t sure when or which one it was, but I was certain I hadn’t read this one, so it seemed perfect for this week’s Friday Forgotten Books single-author post.
One of the things I can count on with Macdonald is complicated plotting and straight ahead story line. I like both those things, especially in a P.I. novel. This one begins with a scene so classic it’s become a cliché: an attractive woman walks into the P.I.’s office, sits down, crosses her (attractive) legs and begins talking.
The P.I. in this one is Lew Archer, the location is Los Angeles, the time is the early Sixties. The woman is trying to act as a buffer between her husband, who has an appointment to see Archer in half an hour, and Archer, who may not otherwise understand what she sees as the true nature of the problem.
Said problem, we find out when the husband, Colonel Blackwell arrives early, is that his daughter has fallen head-over-heels in love with a handsome young painter of no means and wants to marry him. Gold digger, the Colonel is sure. The job for Archer is to look into the painter’s background, with an eye, we can safely assume, to discrediting the fellow and thus discouraging the daughter from marrying him. Sounds simple enough.
But no. The case turns from a simple background check into a hunt for facts in Mexico, an investigation into a murder in San Francisco, a search for a body in Lake Tahoe. Typically of Ross Macdonald’s plotting, if you’re one of those who tries to keep ahead of the detective and figure out who did what, when, you’re likely to be wrong. That’s what happened to me, and after that I stayed wrong until the last page.
There are times when reading Ross Macdonald, or John D. MacDonald, Chandler, Hammett, etc., when I almost feel like I have double vision, as if one scene is overlaid by another, neither quite in focus. I rarely succumb to the temptation to go back to previous chapters and re-read, or confirm a name or place or whatever it is that seems to give me the feeling. After a while the feeling slips away and later I’ll remember it only when there’s another turn in the string of events which reminds me of it. If that doesn’t make any sense, that’s okay, it’s just a feeling I sometimes get while reading good hardboiled P.I. fiction.
As much as I like reading Macdonald, and that’s a lot, I’m not sure I could read one after another, back to back. So I’ll get back to Lew Archer pretty soon (after I catch up on the backlog, see the previous post) as there are several more I’ve yet to read, but I’ll finish something else first, meanwhile savoring this one.
One interesting thing about this edition is that the blurb on the back cover is not for this book. A misprint has resulted in the blurb for Macdonald’s The Underground Man landing on it instead (see right). Odd.
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More Friday Forgotten Book posts
can be found at Patti Abbott’s fine blog Pattinase