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The Moving Target (1949)

by Ross Macdonald

Series: Lew Archer (1)

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6362628,058 (3.8)28
Like many Southern California millionaires, Ralph Sampson keeps odd company. There's the sun-worshiping holy man whom Sampson once gave his very own mountain, and the fading actress with sidelines in astrology and S&M. Now, one of Sampson's friends may have arranged his kidnapping. As private eye Lew Archer follows the clues from the canyon sanctuaries of the megarich to jazz joints where you can get beaten up between sets, The Moving Target blends sex, greed, misdirected love, and family hatred into an explosive crime novel.… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 23 (next | show all)
The Moving Target

The first in Macdonald's Lew Archer series (1949) is convoluted and a little crazy. It has a few awkwardnesses, such as the hero getting knocked unconscious three times in 36 hours and a cast of characters that's just too sprawling to fit into a short book, but what's remarkable are its strengths that include peerlessly wry dialogue, intensely vivid description, tight plotting and a solid emotional core. Macdonald's Archer out-Marlowes Marlowe. He's complex, avoids needless violence and isn't afraid to admit fear, at least to the reader. Above all, of course, he's got values and a code, the type introduced by Chandler: a man "who is not himself mean, a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man."

Although #1 in the series, it's the second I've read, and I can see other flaws that weren't present in #3, The Way Some People Die (1951). Most troublingly, there's a trace of authorial cruelty in the depiction of women. I'm not talking about garden-variety misogyny or the chauvinism you should expect in any book by a male author in the 1940s. The women are believably drawn and have agency and motives that are often independent of the male characters. But there is a little too much violence and a little too much cynicism surrounding these women, more than seems necessary even in a book where no one is completely innocent. I'm not sure it would bother even many female readers, given the compensating pleasures of the story, but if you think it would bother you, read it anyway and be aware that the same problem may not be present in later, more accomplished books. ( )
  john.cooper | Aug 2, 2021 |
millionaire is kidnapped, his pilot involved but lee's former boss is the final killer
  ritaer | Jul 22, 2021 |
I like the book. I have to admit, though, it was a bit predictable. Don't think it was the age of the book so much as the kidnapping at the center, and as a "second generation" hard boiled series, I think it couldn't help but be derivative. I will give Macdonald another go, though. I like his writing, and Lew Archer is an interesting take. Not as suave as Marlowe, nor as psychopathic as the Op, just a believable, hard-working detective. ( )
  allan.nail | Jul 11, 2021 |
Synopsis/blurb.....

A lot of people would go to a lot of trouble to get their hands on $100,000 in small notes. Kidnapping for instance. And that's how it looks to Lew Archer when he's hired to trace a missing billionaire. But five murders later and with a tightening circle of suspects, $100,000 no longer seems an adequate reason for all that trouble.

"Without in the least abating my admiration for Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler, I should like to venture the heretical suggestion that Ross Macdonald is a better novelist than either of them."
- Anthony Boucher, New York Times Book Review
-------
My take....

Ross Macdonald's Lew Archer series of books is highly rated by critics and crime fiction aficianados alike. It's been a series I've wanted to try for a while and one I've ignored for about seven or eight years since hoovering up some of the books. I think I had a stalled effort at reading this one a year ago, before setting it aside. Wrong book, wrong time, but second time around it stuck and I managed to re-start, get past where I stopped before and then enjoy the thing.

Best book ever? No, but I did like it enough to know that the investment made in the other books won't have been wasted.

A missing billionaire and a ransom note and a case for Lew Archer....... a dysfunctional family, love triangles, tension, jealousy, a cult, an investigation, more death along the way and answers.

I read this about a month ago and I'm kind of struggling to remember all the twists and plot points and leads, mis-steps, characters and incidents in the book, which doesn't mean to say I didn't like it. It's more a reflection on my memory and perhaps an indicator that I ought to jot things down as I go along or shortly after if I want to offer some coherent thoughts on my reading (mostly for my own benefit as I look back).

I like older books where there's no reliance on technology to locate people, through either mobile phone triangulations or credit card transactions, where computers take the legwork out of investigations. This one is before my time, but it's the close to the world I grew up in. I think it's a book which has aged well.

Other plus points.... California setting; a decent, likable main character; a cohesive plot which made sense and didn't require any suspension of disbelief, one which isn't overly reliant on incident or action to maintain my interest.

It made a bit of a change from my usual reading and along with some other older books I've recently read - Ed McBain (50s), Sjowall and Wahloo (60s), David Craig aka Bill James (70s) - it's breathed a bit of old new life into my favourite passion.

4 from 5

Ross Macdonald wrote nearly twenty Lew Archer books as well as a few other novels. The Drowning Pool is the second in the series and the next one I'll be reading.

Read - June, 2020
Published - 1949
Page count - 196
Source - purchased copy
Format - paperback

https://col2910.blogspot.com/2020/07/ross-macdonald-moving-target-1949.html ( )
  col2910 | Jul 13, 2020 |
The first of the Lew Archers and I'm giving it the leniency of doubt because of it. Yes, very hard boiled; yes, very a dame-is-a-dame; and, yes, Archer is too tightly wound. Will see how the series develops. ( )
  ManyBooks_LittleTime | May 5, 2020 |
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The cab turned off U.S. 101 in the direction of the sea.
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The Moving Target was republished in 1966 under the title Harper, when the movie adaptation was released under that name.
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Like many Southern California millionaires, Ralph Sampson keeps odd company. There's the sun-worshiping holy man whom Sampson once gave his very own mountain, and the fading actress with sidelines in astrology and S&M. Now, one of Sampson's friends may have arranged his kidnapping. As private eye Lew Archer follows the clues from the canyon sanctuaries of the megarich to jazz joints where you can get beaten up between sets, The Moving Target blends sex, greed, misdirected love, and family hatred into an explosive crime novel.

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