Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Zebra-Striped Hearse

I just this minute finished Ross Macdonald's "The Zebra-Striped Hearse," a book that made me want to hide under my desk at work, George Costanza style, so I could finish it, that's how gripping it was. Macdonald's one of the big three kahunas of the hardboiled detective novel -- along with Chandler and Hammett -- and his detective,
Lew Archer, is a paradigmatic figure. I immensely enjoyed all the twists and turns the novel had to offer (a lot of ins, a lot of outs) and I like the way Macdonald handles coincidence in this one -- it's just enough to string you along but stops a hair's breadth short of far-fetched. I'd like to read more books in the series; fortunately, or unfortunately depending on where you're sitting, there are twenty-odd books in the series, meaning I'll soon need to deploy a small army of spinsters to help me read.

Incidentally, I just found out there's a book called "Maigret and the Spinster," which I can't wait to read of course. Oh, and I found out that Macdonald's fictional name for Santa Barbara was "Santa Teresa," which is what Sue Grafton calls the town in her Kinsey Milhone books (this pleases me). I'm full of wonderment today.

In any case, I hope the next one I read is also a vintage copy (my "Zebra-Striped Hearse" was a first edition if that means anything) because they're so delightfully smelly and this one came with a great publisher's note:
"Like Chandler and Hammett before him, Ross Macdonald writes for the general literate public. That mystery fans also like his work is all to the good."


Ken said...

Don't know about you -- I love Archer, but can't help feeling he nabbed the wrong suspect in this one.

Yes, he gets his confession, but it does make a subtle hash of the facts...

Archer taken in? Maybe it's just me, but I can't help but close the book with the uneasy feeling that the detective -- to protect a suspect he likes? -- simply made up the last chapter...

Spinster Aunt said...


I simply thought it was a fabulous, unexpected twist, but I can also see how you might find it tacked on since it didn't feel organic to the rest of the plot. I also remember grappling with the number of coincidences this plot hinged upon, feeling they stretched the limits of logic and my credulity sometimes.

That being said, I kind of liked this last chapter coming completely out of nowhere like that ... and I'm always ready to accept a few murky facts as a trade-off for a good frisson.

Anonymous said...

I think this is the best detective novel ever written. That takes some qualification and explanation, but I mean as a detective novel, with the emphasis more on 'detective' than 'novel'. I think the wrap-up is perfect. I've read the story maybe four times in the last twenty five years, and just finished it again yesterday. Besides the marvelous plot, there is marvelous development of character, marvelous witty observations, and the beginnings of the deeper psychological themes that were to come in his later books, culminating in the masterpiece, Sleeping Beauty. That's the best book he ever wrote.


Spinster Aunt said...

I can't wait to read Sleeping Beauty! If you consider it his masterpiece, it must be very fabulous indeed. Did you like it even better than The Blue Hammer (I think that might be my favorite so far). I look forward to it!