ffb: The Doomsters by Ross Macdonald

this is the 151st in my series of forgotten or seldom read books

The Doomsters by Ross Macdonald, 1958

DoomstersNot too long ago, for a single-author Friday Forgotten Book post, I read Macdonald’s The Zebra-Striped Hearse, which I liked quite a lot. Lately I was in the mood for another Lew Archer novel, so I read this one.

 Like most of Ross Macdonald’s mysteries, The Doomsters presents a dysfunctional family with plenty of secrets. Lew Archer has to explore the past in order to solve a murder in the present. That’s fine, and I’ve come to expect it from Macdonald. It makes for interesting plots and intriguing insights into the characters and the crime solving in the books.

On his blog a few months back George Kelley said about this book:

“Ross Macdonald sprinkles in some Oedipus references, but long-time readers of the Archer series know all about troubled father-son relationships. Along with The ChillThe Galton Case, and Black MoneyThe Doomsters is one of the best books in the series.”

I’m afraid I have to disagree. I’ve read about half of the Lew Archer books, and agree that the other books George names in his review are very good, but I found a lot to dislike in The Doomsters. Without a doubt, this is the most depressing Archer novel I’ve read. In addition, there are lots of loose ends left unaddressed, motives for actions by some of the characters are highly questionable, some very convenient coincidences.

I like Ross Macdonald’s Lew Archer series a lot. I’m probably going against the tide here,  but for me, this is a low point in it.

About Rick Robinson

Enjoying life in Portland, OR
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16 Responses to ffb: The Doomsters by Ross Macdonald

  1. Bill Crider says:

    I like ’em all, so I like this one, too.

  2. Evan Lewis says:

    Read it. Don’t remember it. Makes me want to start the series again.

  3. I’ve read them also, but a lot more have crossed my mind since then. Don’t remember a lot, just that I liked them all.

  4. Jeff Meyerson says:

    Yay! You’re back. Glad to see that.

    As for the book, I read it two years ago and liked it a lot better than you did, though I certainly wouldn’t put it in a category with THE CHILL.

  5. Barry Ergang says:

    I read this one several decades ago and remember little about it except that I liked it. THE GALTON CASE is usually cited as the novel in which Macdonald broke away from the Chandler mold and really found his own voice. But I recall after reading THE DOOMSTERS, that I thought it, too, broke away from the Chandler mold–and it immediately precedes THE GALTON CASE in the Archer series.

  6. Richard says:

    Well, people, maybe it’s just how it struck me. I’ve been pretty down about my eyesight lately, and I squinted my way through this, with a headache and stressed out. Still, I’ve enjoyed the other Archer novels I’ve read much more than this one.

  7. Who is this “George Kelly” guy? He sounds like a tool. Glad you’re back despite the headache and stress. We’re all rooting for you!

  8. Patti Abbott says:

    I wonder if you don’t place too much emphasis on whether a book depresses you. Some books are meant to do that, I think. Also having eye problems that I hope are just allergy related.

  9. Richard says:

    George, sorry about that. Now fixed.

  10. Richard says:

    Patti, while I realize that there is an emotional impact to a novel or story with negative people or events, it’s not my choice of reading. That’s why I pretty much stopped reading noir a decade ago; the inevitable downward spiral of doomed people, deserved or not, isn’t how I choose to be entertained. In The Doomsters (the title should have been a clue) only a ranch hand, and elderly woman and a very young child are not twisted by greed and jealousy. It was just a bit much for me.

  11. Zeno says:

    Richard, I read this recently and I agree with you that the Doomsters was a bit of a disappointment. The problem was the solution to the four murders seemed to not entirely fit. First, it is not clear how Archer solved it expect for the observation about the blanket. Secondly the final murder which also involves the blanket is given no motivation. The character says something to the effect that they do not know why they did the murder. That is no exactly a “fair play” mystery.

    Of course Macdonald is more into the psychology of the characters and some of it works. It is especially noteworthy for how it develops Archer and how he begins to look things differently Those are good points but the solution especially given the weak motivation for two of the murders seems a bit unfair. What do you think?

  12. Richard says:

    I think I’d agree with assessment, Zeno. The Doctor was obviously off his rocker with greed, but for me that still doesn’t explain his internal logic, nor why he decided to supply the heroin, nor why he allowed witnesses in the first place. The rest of the family were so caught up in the desire to get the family fortune they sacrificed everything, even themselves, to try for it.

  13. Zeno says:

    That is true. I more thinking of the last murder and that of the second somewhat. There was no motive for the girl’s murder nor was there any evidence to point who killed the father of the family.

  14. Zeno says:

    I just finished the Chill today. It was really good. This is I figured out the murder and the famous “surprise ending” also. Have you read that one?

  15. Zeno says:

    *This time

  16. Glad you liked it. Yes, I read it, but about thirty years ago, and don’t remember a thing about it. I’m planning to re-read it and some others later this year, though so please don’t throw any spoilers my way.

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