Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Barbarous Coast (Ross Macdonald, 1956)

There was trouble in the air and it was the end of rough year and I was little tired. I looked at George Wall's pink, rebellious head. He was a natural-born troublemaker, dangerous to himself and probably to other people. Perhaps if I tagged along with him, I could head off the trouble he was looking for. I was a dreamer.

Archer is hired by an aging manager of a high society club to find a missing woman. He has a sidekick this time in her husband who she had left and poor guy is torn apart by grief and jealousy. So for the most part he's not very helpful and basically just makes Archer's work harder. Which of course wasn't easy to begin with. It seems that everything originates from two years old and still unsolved murder of missing Hester's best friend. So in no time at all we are drawn into Macdonald's usual dark world of deceit, blackmail, murder, mental illness, greed, shady characters of mobsters, doctors, movie people, fucked up families and so on.

Once again maestro delivers another hard-boiled masterpiece. Even darker than usual because crime seems to have some kind of psychological roots (we get to learn about psychiatric concept of "folie a deux" - madness for two). Archer is tired and disillusioned (It's a rough life", I said, "You see people at their worst") so don't expect a happy ending here. But having said that, do not expect heavy drama and complicated character study crap either. Sure, we get these, but  Barbarous Coast is still first class mystery novel.

Everything simply works. Plotting is superb and driven by standard (and proven) tools of trade (almost identical twin sisters, burned body etc). Characterizations, language and narration are in the league of their own and its astounding pace is sometimes even hard to follow. We are of course used of Archer being quick but here everything takes place in a couple of days. After furious start it gets a bit more settled when we arrive to a pivotal scene in Channel country club which takes a good portion of a novel (almost 50 pages!). Masks begin to fall and skeletons start to fall out of the closets.

My only (and very tiny) objection is the lack of Archer's detective skills. In this one he mostly follows leads revealed to him during interviews, not many physical evidences are relevant.



Lew Archer, P.I.

L.A., briefly Las Vegas

Body count: 5

Hester Campbell, ex diver. Her sister Rina. Isobel Graff, Gabrielle Torres

He gets beaten quite a lot and loses conscious three times. But he's so cool and used to it that he doesn't really make a big deal out of it: "The front end of the Sunset Limited hit the side of my head and knocked me off the rails into deep red darkness." Or just "The sky broke up in lights. Something else hit me, and the sky turned black."

Don't really get it and it's not very cool sounding either. Couple of killings do take place on the coast behind The Channel Club but that would hardly be enough to call the whole coast barbarous. So it's probably referring to L.A. in general.

Cool photo of a gun in a holster covering woman's breast. But it got nothing to do with this novel, dames are not armed here. At least not with the guns...

Cool lines:  
The dingly little room had the atmosphere of an unsuccessful dentist's waiting room. Marfeld came out of Frost's office looking as if the dentist had told him he'd have to have all his teeth pulled.

You try to put the bite on my or any friend of mine  - it's the quickest way to get a hole in the head to go with the hole in the head you already got.

Anger and anxiety wrenched at her face, but she was one of those girls who couldn't look ugly. There was a sculptured beauty built into her bones, and she held herself with a sense that her beauty would look after her.

"You a mobster or what?"
"That's a funny question."
"Yeah, sure, uproarious. You got a hand gun in your armpit, and you're not Davy Crockett."
"You shatter my illusions."[The Coolest!]

Bassett's face underwent a process of change. The end product of the process was a bright, nervous grin which resembled the rictus of a dead horse.

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