Friday, June 22, 2012

Beach Noir Book 2 -- The Zebra-Striped Hearse

This was my second go-around for this book (I blogged about it five (!) years ago, here). I couldn't remember any of the details and it's funny that in my earlier appraisal I complain about there being one coincidence too many. I didn't notice that at all this time. No, this time I was absolutely swept away. I have to agree with the anonymous commenter in my earlier post that this might be one of the -- if not the best -- detective novels ever written. Coincidence? No. A slow, steady, thorough chase, methodically picking up the pieces. A tacked-on last chapter? No. A final twist that makes one unloved character all the more tragic. Hearse is a perfect book and has a permanent place in my pantheon. What's more, the prose is sublime. Who else but Ross Macdonald would compare a cobblestone street to a dry riverbed.... and have it mean so much?

One added bonus: I found this Anthony Boucher review tucked inside my book:

Totally agree on all counts Unusual subtlety and distinction indeed. And there's something so much more poignant about non-professionals mixed up in crime. Human life is bungling exercise, and the amateur in the mystery novel is the best expression of that -- of the mistakes we make that we cannot cover up. I think that's what makes this novel, and all of Ross Macdonald, so devastating.

On a side note, I'm convinced that one minor character in this book is based on Manny Farber. He lives in Southern California, he's an art critic, and his name is "Manny Meyer." The suspect is a painter and Archer takes photos of his paintings to Manny Meyer to judge whether he's a good artist or a total fraud. His art is deemed excellent. I won't spoil it for you and tell you whether that makes someone more or less likely to be a murderer. I'll just let you ruminate on it.... but I will reveal that the man is, in fact, rather amoral. There's only one thing artists really care about, as Lew Archer says: "A good north light, and money to buy paints." How much paint they need, and what they're willing to do for it, remains the mystery...


Flicker said...

OK, I just finished reading this about an hour ago, so I probably haven't really processed it yet, but I didn't love it as much as I was supposed to. I kept turning back to the copyright page and thinking this book was published in 1962! In 1962 I was 2 years old. In 1962 people still thought it was OK to talk about women like this. I know, I know, it was still OK in 1972 too. But it still just blows me away, how far we've come.

Anyway, what I did love was the introduction to Ross MacDonald, who I somehow, inexplicably, have never read before. I definitely plan to read more (despite the women). He's wonderfully literate. He and I have the same alma mater (Michigan) for grad school. I'm so proud.

It IS very well plotted, and I didn't think the coincidences were too awful. Maybe that overcoat... but it almost seems as though it, personally, WANTS to be found. I did not feel as though the last chapter was tacked on. Although the previous confession worked pretty well, there were loose ends that needed tying up.

I like the scenes among the ex-pats in Mexico...

Here's my favorite bit in the book: the two letters written by two daughters to two mothers, each with a poetic device appropriate to each woman's background. "I'm a poet and I don't know it" and "alliteration's artful aid." I think MacDonald's just showing off, but it's still amusing.

As to what I drank while reading, ice water all the way. It's only supposed to be 95 today, but for most of the week it's been around 105.

Andrea Janes said...

Nice -- go Michigan! I feel proud because Macdonald was born in Canada, where I'm from :)

So yeah, the woman thing is interesting. It always is. I know some noir writers, like Mickey Spillane, really freak me out with their depictions of women but I accept it as just something that was of its time.

Maybe we should try reading some Margaret Millar -- Macdonald's wife, and apparently underrated fellow author. I just ordered a copy of Beast in View. (Maybe the next book club should be women writers?) In any case, it'll be fascinating to read some Leigh Brackett and Dorothy B. Hughes after all these men!

If you're interested in noir and gender, and want to guest post/co-post on either or both of those books, just shoot me an email (bourbonandtea at gmail dot com).