Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Instant Enemy (Ross Macdonald, 1968)

Simple case of a teenage runaway girl turns into a not-so-simple case of kidnapping in which no ransom is demanded but instead triggers the action that causes a few skeletons to fall out of the closets. It takes some time to take off and in fact we need to wait until the page 87 to start the body count meter running. But it builds up very elegantly and nicely and we know that we are heading into some pretty heavy shit when Archer interviews a missing girl's friend and asks her if Sandy grew old all of a sudden. And then he reminds her that "And I'm not talking about having a baby. That's a minor problem compared with the other things that can happen to a girl."

And then it gets complicated. Really complicated. As usually with Macdonald, we need to go into the past where original sins lie. Fifteen years and three generations back in this one. Together with a bunch of characters and some identities changes this makes the story quite difficult to follow at times. Not to mention its relentless pace - poor old Archer is on the move constantly, driving all the time and even taking a flight to San Francisco. He gets a call from his client at 5am and for the next two days only manages to get sleep twice for an hour in a car (an ambulance the second time). So it's pretty funny when he orders a rare steak for the breakfast on the third morning of the case. He definitely deserved it!

It also gets darker and darker as it progresses. Practically all the characters are flawed in one way or another and Archer's strongest motivation for working on the case is to keep the girl (even though guilty) out of prison. He also develops a sympathy for her messed up boyfriend (this one is guilty as hell) and tries to stop him from getting into even bigger troubles. He succeeds only partly so ending (with a great fucking twist btw) just leaves you sad. Like it or not, we are living in a world full of greedy and amoral people.

Great stuff, another masterpiece. 14th in the series with Macdonald at his best. Although I do have one little remark: there's a way too obvious give away when Archer is given a check for a hundred thousand dollars dated for a week in advance. I didn't think for a second that he would actually be able to cash it. Total spoiler!

5/5

Facts:

Hero:
Lew Archer, PI

Location
LA, briefly San Francisco

Body count
2 in the present, 2 in the past and one unfortunate mud hen shot by some asshole 

Object(s) of desire: 
Davy wants to get to know himself and his father, Sandy wants to punish guys who raped her after giving her a shitty LSD that sent her on a permanent bad trip. Rich people as usually want (even more) money and (as usually) justice is what our knight in a white armor Lew Archer is after.
 
Dames
Runaway kid Sandy. Mrs. Fleischer, middle-aged blonde alcoholic. Ruth Marburg, bitchy millionaire. Mrs. Hackett - "She was handsome but a little fat and dull, and full of unpredictable emotions.

Blackouts:  
I went out, all the way. After a while the darkness where I lay was invaded by dreams. Huge turning wheels, like the interlocking wheels of eternity and necessity, resolved themselves into a diesel locomotive. I was lying limp across the tracks and the train was coming, swinging its Cyclops eye.

Title: Have no idea how to interpret it. Wasn't sure if maybe "Instant Enemy" was some kind of phrase and googled it but search came out only with some pretty ridiculous kind of spell that you can put on your friend that you're pissed off at. Definitely not related to this book, no magic spells here.

Edition:  Fontana, November 1974

Cover
One of the weakest of Macdonald's Fontana reprints but still pretty cool. And accurate too because Sandy steals a shotgun at the beginning. I can't remember whether the color of her sweater color was mentioned or not but her car was definitely green so I guess that qualifies.

Cool lines:  
I let her take me into the large drab living-room.It had an air of not being lived in, just being endured.

She looked anxious and lonely, like an overweight ghost haunting the wrong house.[The Coolest!] 

"I'm offering you a million dollars." She held her breath, and added: "Tax-free. You could live like a king."
I looked around the room. "Is this the way kings live?"

1 comment:

  1. In studying the Lew Archer novels of Ross Macdonald I’ve tried to identify certain characteristics, themes, motifs, images – call them what you like – that crop up frequently throughout the various books. I don’t claim that the following are particularly important or have any special significance or meaning; nor do I say this is a comprehensive list.
    http://postmoderndeconstructionmadhouse.blogspot.com/2014/12/ross-macdonald-characteristics-of.html#.VU14pNKUcwB

    ReplyDelete