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The Instant Enemy by Ross Macdonald
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The Instant Enemy (1968)

by Ross Macdonald

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This book starts out with Lew Archer being hired to find someone as many of the series do. This time it is a runaway daughter. Sandra Sebastian has run away with Davey Spanner two disaffected youths who were part of the theme of many of Macdonald's books after his own personal tragedy.
Sandra and Davey end up kidnapping Stephen Hackett a very wealthy man who is also Sandra's father, Keith Sebastian's, boss. As the story goes on the plot gets more convoluted. Convoluted is putting it mildly. Davey grew up an orphan and when he kidnaps Hackett it is really part of his search for his father. The problem is that nobody is who you think they are as the mixture of Hackett's, Blevins' and their wives and mothers require a diagram to keep track of.
The Hackett's, since they are rich, turn out to be bad guys of course. More people are murdered and murders from the past wind their way into the story. Somewhere the story of the disaffected youths seems to get lost or jumbled up with all the other crazy people. Then at the end Archer does a three page summary of who did what to whom and the book is over.
To be honest the plot got so complicated I lost my empathy for the characters and when you quit caring about the characters the plot falls apart. Macdonald definitely wrote better books than this. I am glad this is not the first book in the series that I read. I give it three stars because he is a good writer but he got off track in this book and never really pulled it back together. ( )
1 vote wildbill | Oct 4, 2012 |
Ross Macdonald's Lew Archer novels are considered to be among the best of the hardboiled genre, as manifested in the 1950s and 1960s. Through the author's influence, themes of power and corruption (as seen in novels by Raymond Chandler) gave way to plots in which criminal behavior is an outcome of dysfunctional families and the psychological disturbance they cause.

In The Instant Enemy, Lew Archer is hired to find a missing 17 year girl, who turns out to be involved in a dangerous and pointless kidnapping of a wealthy businessman. In the process of trying to save the kidnap victim and the girl herself, the detective uncovers a complex web of murder, blackmail and abuse involving three generations of families. The plot is convoluted with a sizeable cast of characters. There are no winners and no heroes – only a sordid history of damaged people and dark secrets, and Archer uncovers the truth through dogged persistence. The cultural referents to the 1960s (Beatles, LSD) help place the story into a historical context. If I were to read the novel again, I'd make a list to keep track of all the characters. ( )
4 vote danielx | Jun 22, 2012 |
Raymond Chandler wrote about a world where mobsters and coppers were both corrupt and willing to use power to get what they wanted. The powerful always took from the weak and Chandler's private eye, Pillip Marlowe was a loner who stood up for the weak against a corrupt system. Chandler's view was a sociological view of the world; it was the system that Marlowe fought against.

Ross MacDonald saw the evil that men do to each other as being psychological and coming from within the family. MacDonald was much less interested in what society had done or not done to his killers, but much more interested in what the killers family had done to him/her. In The Instant Enemy MacDonald's private eye, Lew Archer, sets out to find a young girl that has run away from home. Archer almost immediately comes across the boy that she has run away with. The Instant Enemy then has Archer slowly discover family secrets involving both the girl and the boy involved. It is these family secrets that result in murder, kidnapping and rape.

The Instant Enemy is a quintessential Ross MacDonald mystery. Family dysfunction is at the heart of what moves each of the characters forward. MacDonald's compassion for famiies can be heard in the discription Archer gives about a woman who was the foster mother for the boy in the story:

"She was quite a woman, I thought: trying to create a family out of a runaway boy and a reluctant husband, a wholeness out of disappointed lives."

And it is this disappointment, and pain, and even cruelty in families that leads to what MacDonald sees as the driving force in his killers. And the reader can understand that driving force because we too grew up in families and understand about family secrets and how somthing that happened 20 years ago can still effect a person. It is why we can believe the story and understand what happened.

MacDonald does not have the same ability to write about the people in his story or the places they populate with the same beauty as Raymond Chandler. But what he comes up short in with his prose he more than makes up for in his plotting of his story. The Instant Enemy is a great story with a plot that is believable and relentless. ( )
1 vote markatread | Apr 5, 2010 |
Many of Macdonald's novels seem to start off in a similar vein, especially when read one after the other, in the order that they were written, as I have been doing. Eventually, however, they all take on an individual life of their own as did "The Instant Enemy".. yielding an intricate saga of murder and mayhem, and the occasional unforgettable line, such as: "I said I was sorry, and left her warming her hands at her bible". Lew Archer.. literate shamus of the 50s and 60s! ( )
2 vote jastbrown | Nov 30, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0307279057, Paperback)

Generations of murder, greed and deception come home to roost in time for the most shocking conclusion ever in a Lew Archer novel.At first glance, it's an open-and-shut missing persons case: a headstrong daughter has run off to be with her hothead juvenile delinquent boyfriend. That is until this bush-league Bonnie & Clyde kidnap Stephen Hackett, a local millionaire industrialist. Now, Archer is offered a cool 100 Gs for his safe return by his coquettish heiress mother who has her own mysterious ties to this disturbed duo. But the deeper Archer digs, the more he realizes that nothing is as it seems and everything is questionable. Is the boyfriend a psycho ex-con with murder on the brain or a damaged youngster trying to straighten out his twisted family tree? And is the daughter simply his nympho sex-kitten companion in crime or really a fragile kid, trying to block out horrific memories of bad acid and an unspeakable sex crime?

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:03:31 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Generations of murder, greed and deception come home to roost in time for the most shocking conclusion ever in a Lew Archer novel.At first glance, it's an open-and-shut missing persons case: a headstrong daughter has run off to be with her hothead juvenile delinquent boyfriend. That is until this bush-league Bonnie & Clyde kidnap Stephen Hackett, a local millionaire industrialist. Now, Archer is offered a cool 100 Gs for his safe return by his coquettish heiress mother who has her own mysterious ties to this disturbed duo. But the deeper Archer digs, the more he realizes that nothing is as it seems and everything is questionable. Is the boyfriend a psycho ex-con with murder on the brain or a damaged youngster trying to straighten out his twisted family tree? And is the daughter simply his nympho sex-kitten companion in crime or really a fragile kid, trying to block out horrific memories of bad acid and an unspeakable sex crime?From the Trade Paperback edition.… (more)

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