Where were you in ’63 Crimeziners? Two Beatles albums, two Bond films, and one dead president, all in the same year. The swinging sixties were kicking into overdrive, as was the Vietnam War. But what’ this? A new bestselling novel by noir crime legend Ross Macdonald?
That’s right, it really is that long ago since Ross Macdonald released his legendary noir novel The Chill. But why is it a novel that everyone is still talking about after all this time?
Reading The Chill you would have no idea it was written in the swinging sixties. This novel could almost have been set in the thirties or forties, when the gods of noir like Hammett, Chandler and Cain still ruled the earth, or more accurately—every bar west of Hollyweird Boulevard.
The novel concerns an earnest newlywed Alex Kincaid, whose lovely young wife has run out on him after just a few short hours of marriage. Poor Alex, he’s highly strung, who wouldn’t be under such circumstances? But the high wired intensity of the Kinkaid’s fledging relationship is a throwback to a different age, which seems curious when one takes this novel in it’s historical context..
Enter Lew Archer, the thinking man’s private eye.
Macdonald mainstay Lew Archer is a man of mystery. He has no assistants, amusing relations, or loveable pets, the methods by which so many authors introduce humanity to their protagonist. The novelty of Lew Archer is that he is a foil for the plot it’s self, a unique attribute that distinguishes the stories of Macdonald from so many pretenders to the throne of noir mystery.
Archer is no hard-drinking wise guy, like Sam Spade or Marlowe. The byzantine plot of The Chill is certainly Chandleresque in its complexity however. And it is here we encounter Macdonald’s other obsessions, the impact of past on present and the psychological dynamics of the family, and in particular, the dangerous results of a wronged childhood.
Then of course there is Macdonald’s allusion throughout this novel, to Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner [Macdonald wrote a phd thesis on this subject] Now wake up at the back there Crimeziners, you do not have to have actually read this great literary poem to understand The Chill, but it certainly adds to the fun. And good old Ross even throws in snatches of WB Yates to add to the excitement, you lucky people.
Ross Macdonald and the Chill, more than any other book he wrote, mark the demarcation line between intellectually sophisticated crime fiction of writers such as Kellerman, Crais and John Connelly and the brass knuckle cliché of the Micky Spillane school. This is why Ross Macdonald is a Crimezine legend.
Indeed, big bucks psychologist Jonathan Kellerman claims he became a crime writer on the strength of a pile of Ross Macdonald novels he discovered in a bargain bin at a Beverly Hills thrift store. Now you know where those Oedipal nightmares came from. So how does it all end I hear you ask— and the answer is—very unexpectedly, but that is the genius of Ross Macdonald.