Ross Macdonald

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Ross Macdonald
Ross macdonald.jpg
BornKenneth Millar
(1915-12-13)December 13, 1915
Los Gatos, California
DiedJuly 11, 1983(1983-07-11) (aged 67)
Santa Barbara, California
Pen nameJohn Macdonald, John Ross Macdonald, Ross Macdonald
Alma mater University of Western Ontario, University of Michigan
Genre Crime fiction
Spouse Margaret Millar

Ross Macdonald is the main pseudonym that was used by the American-Canadian writer of crime fiction Kenneth Millar ( /ˈmɪlər/ ; December 13, 1915 – July 11, 1983). He is best known for his series of hardboiled novels set in Southern California and featuring private detective Lew Archer.


Brought up in the province of Ontario, Canada, Macdonald eventually settled in the state of California, where he died in 1983.


Millar was born in Los Gatos, California, and raised in his Canadian parents' native Kitchener, Ontario, where he started college. When his father abandoned his family unexpectedly, Macdonald lived with his mother and various relatives, moving several times by his 16th year. In Canada, he graduated from the University of Western Ontario in History and English. He met and married Margaret Sturm in 1938. They had a daughter, Linda, who died in 1970. He went on to study at the University of Michigan, graduating with a PhD. [1]

Millar began his career writing stories for pulp magazines and used his real name for his first four novels. Of these he completed the last, The Dark Tunnel, in 1944. After serving at sea as a naval communications officer from 1944 to 1946, Millar returned to Michigan, where he obtained his Ph.D. degree in literature.

For his fifth novel, in 1949, he wrote under the name John Macdonald in order to avoid confusion with his wife, who was achieving her own success writing as Margaret Millar. He then changed his pen name briefly to John Ross Macdonald, before settling on Ross Macdonald in order to avoid being confused with fellow mystery writer John D. MacDonald, who was writing under his real name. Millar would use the pseudonym "Ross Macdonald" on all his fiction from the mid '50s forward.

In the early 1950s, he returned to California, settling for some thirty years in Santa Barbara, the area where most of his books were set. In these the city in which Lew Archer is based goes under the fictional name of Santa Teresa. In 1983 Macdonald died of Alzheimer's disease.


Macdonald first introduced the tough but humane private eye Lew Archer in the 1946 short story "Find the Woman" (credited then to "Ken Millar"). A full-length novel featuring him, The Moving Target , followed in 1949 and was the first in a series of eighteen. Macdonald mentions in the foreword to the Archer in Hollywood omnibus that his detective derives his name from Sam Spade's partner, Miles Archer, and from Lew(is) Wallace, author of Ben-Hur , though he was patterned on Philip Marlowe.

The novels were hailed by genre fans and literary critics alike. [2] The Lew Archer novels are recognized as some of the most significant American mystery books of the mid 20th century, bringing a literary sophistication to the genre. The critic John Leonard declared that Macdonald had surpassed the limits of crime fiction to become "a major American novelist". [3] He has also been called the primary heir to Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler as the master of American hardboiled mysteries. [4]

Macdonald's writing built on the pithy style of his predecessors by adding psychological depth and insights into the motivations of his characters. [5] Their plots of "baroque splendor" were complicated and often turned on Archer's unearthing family secrets of upwardly mobile clients, sometimes going back over several generations. [6] Lost or wayward sons and daughters were a theme common to many of the novels. [7] Critics have commented favorably on Macdonald's deft combination of the two sides of the mystery genre, the "whodunit" and the psychological thriller. [8] Even his regular readers seldom saw a Macdonald denouement coming.

Screenwriter William Goldman, who adapted Macdonald's stories to film, called his works "the finest series of detective novels ever written by an American". [2] Tom Nolan in his Ross Macdonald, A Biography, [9] wrote, "By any standard he was remarkable. His first books, patterned on Hammett and Chandler, were at once vivid chronicles of a postwar California and elaborate retellings of Greek and other classic myths. Gradually he swapped the hard-boiled trappings for more subjective themes: personal identity, the family secret, the family scapegoat, the childhood trauma; how men and women need and battle each other, how the buried past rises like a skeleton to confront the present. He brought the tragic drama of Freud and the psychology of Sophocles to detective stories, and his prose flashed with poetic imagery."

Over his career, Macdonald was presented with only two awards. In 1974, he received the Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America, and in 1982 he received "The Eye", the Lifetime Achievement Shamus Award from the Private Eye Writers of America.


Chet Gordon (as Kenneth Millar)

Lew Archer novels

  1. The Moving Target – 1949 (filmed with Paul Newman as Harper , 1966)
  2. The Drowning Pool – 1950 (also filmed with Paul Newman as The Drowning Pool , 1975)
  3. The Way Some People Die – 1951
  4. The Ivory Grin (aka Marked for Murder) – 1952
  5. Find a Victim – 1954
  6. The Barbarous Coast – 1956
  7. The Doomsters – 1958
  8. The Galton Case – 1959
  9. The Wycherly Woman – 1961
  10. The Zebra-Striped Hearse – 1962
  11. The Chill – 1964
  12. The Far Side of the Dollar – 1965 (1965 CWA Gold Dagger Award winner)
  13. Black Money – 1966
  14. The Instant Enemy – 1968
  15. The Goodbye Look – 1969 (filmed as Tayna 1992)
  16. The Underground Man – 1971 (filmed as a television series pilot in 1974)
  17. Sleeping Beauty – 1973
  18. The Blue Hammer – 1976
  19. The Archer Files, The Complete Short Stories of Lew Archer Private Investigator, Including Newly Discovered Case Notes, ed. Tom Nolan – Crippen & Landru, 2007. This contains the contents of The Name Is Archer, the additional stories in Lew Archer, Private Investigator, and the three stories in Strangers in Town. The story "Death by Water" is changed (with the estate's permission) to feature Lew Archer rather than Joe Rogers. The book also includes eleven "case notes" – beginnings of novels or short stories that Macdonald never completed. The story Guilt-Edged Blonde was adapted into the 2002 French film The Wolf Of The West Coast (Le loup de la côte ouest). [10]

Lew Archer short story collections

Lew Archer omnibuses

British omnibuses

Allison & Busby published three Archer omnibus editions in the 1990s.

Other novels

Millar's first four novels, all non-series standalones, were all initially published using his real name. They have since been intermittently reissued, sometimes as by "Ross Macdonald".

Two later non-series novels were also published. One was credited to John Ross Macdonald, the other simply to Ross Macdonald.

writing as Kenneth Millar

writing as John Ross Macdonald

writing as Ross Macdonald


See also


  1. Flash From the Past: Famous 20th century private eye is rooted in Kitchener July 10, 2020
  2. 1 2 Baker, Robert Allen and Michael T. Nietzel (1985). Private Eyes: One Hundred and One Knights : a Survey of American Detective Fiction, 1922–1984 . Bowling Green KY: Popular Press. p.  53. ISBN   978-0879723293.
  3. J. Kingston Pierce, "50 Years with Lew Archer: An Anniversary Tribute to Ross Macdonald and his Heroice Yet Passionate Private Eye", January Magazine.
  4. Nickerson, Catherine Ross (2010). "The Detective Story", in A Companion to the American Short Story, edited by Alfred Bendixen & James Nagel. New York: John Wiley & Sons. p. 425. ISBN   978-1405115438.
  5. Miller, Wilbur R. (2012). The Social History of Crime and Punishment in America: An Encyclopedia. Los Angeles: Sage. p. 1019. ISBN   978-1412988766.
  6. Geoffrey O'Brien, Hardboiled America, Van Norstrand Reinhold, 1981, pp.125-8
  7. Jones, Tobias (July 31, 2009). "A passion for mercy". The Guardian. Retrieved May 19, 2013.
  8. Connolly, John and Declan Burke (2012). Books to Die For: The World's Greatest Mystery Writers on the World's Greatest Mystery Novels. London: Hodder & Stoughton. ISBN   978-1451696578.
  9. Tom Nolan, Ross Macdonald, A Biography, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1999 ISBN   0-684-81217-7
  10. Ronnie Scheib, The Wolf of the West Coast, Variety, 23 September 2002

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<i>The Moving Target</i> novel by Ross Macdonald

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<i>The Drowning Pool</i> novel by Ross Macdonald

The Drowning Pool is a 1950 mystery novel by American writer Ross Macdonald, his second book in the series revolving around the cases of private detective Lew Archer.

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Blue City is a thriller written in 1947 by Ross Macdonald. The novel was originally released under his real name, Kenneth Millar, by Alfred A. Knopf, while a condensed version was serialized in the August and September 1950 issues of Esquire. In 1986 it was considerably adapted to film.

<i>The Way Some People Die</i> book by Ross Macdonald

The Way Some People Die is a detective mystery written in 1951 by American author Ross Macdonald. It is the third book featuring his private eye Lew Archer.

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The Galton Case is the eighth book in the Lew Archer Series by Ross Macdonald. The book was published in 1959. Macdonald thought with this book he found his own voice as a writer.

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