Wednesday, 8 August 2012

The Underground Man

It is quite some time since I read one of Ross Macdonald's private eye novels featuring Lew Archer, but I was prompted to give him another go by the republication of The Underground Man - and I'm very glad I did. The paperback is one of a number that have now appeared as Penguin Modern Classics. Is it over-stating the case to call Macdonald's books "modern classics"? An interesting subject for debate, but for my own part, I'm pleased to see their quality recognised in this way.

The Underground Man dates back to 1971, but you can't call a modern classic a forgotten book - can you? -  which is why this appreciation isn't appearing on a Friday! Archer becomes involved in a case which sees a teenage girl abducting a young boy, but it turns out that the girl is as much a victim as the boy. As usual with Macdonald, the story involves the gradual revelation of long-buried family secrets.

There is a crowded cast of characters - so crowded, in fact, that occasionally I lost track of who was who. With many writers, this would be a major criticism, but somehow I didn't mind. I find Macdonald's writing almost hypnotically readable. He creates a fascinating picture of a sunny yet tainted world and his characters are concisely but compellingly portrayed.

Another strength in this book is that the plot is very neatly constructed. I didn't pick out the culprit, and I found the key elements of the story believable and, as is often the way with Macdonald, rather poignant. I shall soon be having a read of one or two more of the new reissues. Well done to Penguin for reintroducing me to a very enjoyable novelist.


Fred Zackel said...

I've been teaching the book in my Detective in Lit class for seven or eight years. I still love it. BTW, Ross Macdonald (aka Ken Millar) celebrates his centennial this December. Meet you in Santa Barbara at the Casino Club!

sonia said...

I'll have to check this out. I'm currently immersed in Christie but this looks like something my husband would enjoy...

The Passing Tramp said...

I've tended to find the later Macdonalds on the repetitive side. The plots seem kind of interchangeable, with all the emphasis on family secrets and inter-generational conflict. My favorite so far actually has been from the 1950s, but I think that puts me, as usual, in the minority.

Martin Edwards said...

Hi Fred, good to hear from you. I can imagine it is a good book to teach.
Sonia, nice to hear from you. Macdonald is good on plot and I suspect Christie would have approved.
Curt, yes, there are recurrent themes and plot devices, which is one reason I tend to space out my reading of his books. But I can't think of one I haven't enjoyed.