Ross Macdonald (Kenneth Millar 1915 – 1983)

Creator of 18 detective novels featuring private detective Lew Archer, Ross Macdonald (pen name of Kenneth Millar) was a master of the hard-boiled Southern California tradition practiced by Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. The Lew Archer novels began with The Moving Target (1949) and ended with The Blue Hammer (1976).

A native Californian raised in Canada, he began writing novels in 1944 while completing his Ph.D. in Literature at the University of Michigan. (His dissertation topic: Samuel Taylor Coleridge.) His work transcended genre conventions, earning him praise from both critics (“a major American novelist,” asserted New York Times critic John Leonard) and his public. His books are studied today in college classrooms and have inspired writers such as Robert B. Parker, Sue Grafton, Jonathan Kellerman and James Ellroy to push the boundaries of detective fiction.

The Chill (1964) was awarded the Silver Dagger by the Crime Writers’ Association of Great Britain. Two of his Archer stories were made into theatrical films, both starring Paul Newman: Harper (1966), based on The Moving Target; and The Drowning Pool (1975). Author William Goldman, who wrote the Harper screenplay, called Millar/Macdonald’s works “the finest series of detective novels ever written by an American.”

Further reading: 1999 Millar/Macdonald tribute in january magazine.


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