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The Underground Man by Ross Macdonald
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The Underground Man

by Ross Macdonald

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Lew Archer is feeding the birds at his apartment one morning when he meets a little boy named Ronny, who is staying in the same building along with his mother. The boy's father arrives unexpectedly and Archer becomes entangled in an unpleasant domestic scene. This chance encounter leads Archer into a mess of long-held secrets and connections, with kidnapping and murder forming part of the web. And just to make things more difficult, a wildfire has erupted in the Santa Teresa area that could either burn away the untruths or destroy the truth entirely…

This was a really absorbing story. It put me in mind of Macdonald's The Galton Case, which also deals in family secrets. (Come to think of it, most of Archer's cases involve long-held secrets in some way.) This one had a different twist in that a little boy was involved and put in danger; usually the main focus of an Archer story is an imperilled woman. The fire was also a novel plot element and reflected part of the reality of life in southern California. I got a bit lost somewhere in the latter half of the book but read on, figuring that everything would be explained in the end, and it was. The only slightly off note was a throwaway remark about poisoned pelicans on the coast. My initial reaction was "Oh great, a token environmental message," but Archer was able to rescue it somewhat later on (it may be a spoiler to mention the statement in detail or how he rescued it).

I would recommend this if you've already read Macdonald; it would make a good second Archer if you are not particular about reading in order. Or if you liked The Galton Case, this one might appeal to you as well. ( )
  rabbitprincess | Aug 24, 2013 |
When Lew Archer witnesses the abduction of a boy he is drawn into a tortuously complex case of murder and blackmail hidden amongst the wealthiest families of small town California.

I rarely like a Noir book for the plot but I enjoyed the way this twisted tale unfurled which, like the forest fire it’s set against, it rapidly breaks out in all directions and tries to consume all. Although, it does this in sedately fashion; one of the key joys is the pacing, the steady unfurling of what could easily be a torrid soap opera of a plot. Affairs and loveless marriages, blackmail, murder and rape, mental illness are all slowly unearthed but Lew's humane pragmatism grounds it all whilst ramping up the tension. It is a tale with a strong theme as one generations sins hit the next and then next and then?

It's hard to pick out a negative part, it is what it is after all and has aged well. This book does sit towards the end of a series but that didn't negatively impact the tale and I am intrigued to try an early one and see how the character starts out. ( )
  clfisha | Oct 22, 2012 |
This is a Lew Archer mystery that for me is one of the best books in the series. Archer's involvement in the story is as much personal as business and there are two themes from the series that are brought out very well.
The book begins with Archer out in his front yard throwing peanuts to some blue jays. A small boy comes out of the house next door and joins him. He is Ronald Broadhurst who becomes a central figure in the story. This beginning is a perfect set up for the rest of the story. His parents have just separated and after Ronny's father picks him up to visit his grandmother he disappears and Archer is hired to find him.
In the course of his search for Ronny Archer meets Sue Crandall and Jerry Kilpatrick. They are two young people who are alienated from their parents and the rest of the world. This is a theme that appears often in MacDonald's books. Parents and their children talking past each other without communicating living in different worlds. The parents all think they have good relationships with their children but the children are really just objects in the parent's world. The children feel alone and unloved and act out these feelings to the confusion of the parents.
Sue and Jerry take Ronald away on a boat which Jerry is taking care of. Archer follows their trail which ends up with Sue standing on the side of the Golden Gate Bridge deciding whether or not to jump.
Stanley Broadhurst is found buried behind his mother's house having started a disastrous fire during the course of his murder. Further digging finds that his father, who was murdered 15 years ago is buried beneath him. All of the murders are traced back to one of Archer's favorite villains. A seemingly nice old lady who has lived a life motivated by fear and hate. I don't think this requires a spoiler alert since there are several suspects for this role.
This book was very well written and is one of my favorite Lew Archer novels to date. There is a real depth to the characters and Archer's interaction with them. MacDonald is an excellent writer who writes detective stories that are good literature. ( )
  wildbill | Feb 16, 2012 |
Really solid entry in the Lew Archer series. Macdonald represents a good bridge between the golden age and hard boiled detective genre, where it's technically hard boiled but the mystery is the centerpiece of the story. It's a solid mystery that has excellent sociological observations and implications, but also keeps the reader's attention throughout. ( )
  Ben114 | Aug 8, 2011 |
The plane trip was 6 hours so I got in a couple reads. As always, Macdonald asks who fathered, who deserted, who coupled, who killed. A little Freud and a little mayhem. Readable and twisty as all the relationships get dragged out of the basement or the attic. OK. ( )
  kerns222 | Jun 26, 2011 |
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Book description
Lew ARcher wouldn't touch a case like this for money. He took it because he was a little in love with a lady. Her husband had run off with their six-year-old son - and a sexy teen-aged blond.

Now the trio had disappeared, and a forest fire was raging through the California Canyon where they were last seen. [When ISN'T there a forest fire somewhere in California?] 
To Archer even the sky looked scorched, but the taste of ashes in his mouth came from seeing the murdered man lying in the still warm ground ... and feeling the cold of a .38 pressed against his head.
    ------------------------------------

    THE WAY TO HELL

The pang of fear I felt for the boy had become a nagging ache. I went into my bathroom and looked at my face as if i could somehow read hiis future there. But all I could read was my own past, in the marks of erosion under my eyes, the mica glints of white and gray in my twenty-four-hour beard.

I shaved and put on a clean shirt and stasrted downstairs again. Halfway down I paused and leaned on the handrail and told myself that I was descending into trouble: a pretty young woman with a likeable boy and a wandering husband. A hot wind was blowing in my face.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0679768084, Paperback)

As a mysterious fire rages through the hills above a privileged town in Southern California, Archer tracks a missing child who may be the pawn in a marital struggle or the victim of a bizarre kidnapping.  What he uncovers amid the ashes is murder—and a trail of motives as combustible as gasoline.  The Underground Man is a detective novel of merciless suspense and tragic depth, with an unfaltering insight into the moral ambiguities at the heart of California's version of the American dream.

If any writer can be said to have inherited the mantle of Dashiell Hammet and Raymond Chandler, it was Ross Macdonald.  Between the late 1940s and his death in 1983, he gave the American crime novel a psychological depth and moral complexity that his predecessors had only hinted at.  And in the character of Lew Archer, Macdonald redefined the private eye as a roving conscience who walks the treacherous frontier between criminal guilt and human sin.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:31:32 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

When a chance encounter makes him a witness to the abduction of a child, private detective Lew Archer can't help but be drawn into the case, pursuing a trail that leads all too quickly to murder. While forest fires rage in the hills around Los Angeles, threatening the homes of some of the city's wealthiest families, Archer unearths a hidden history of failed marriages, runaway children, and a man's life consumed by a search for the father who abandoned him. Ross Macdonald's "Lew Archer" mysteries rewrote the conventions of the detective novel with their credible, humane hero, and with Macdonald's insight and moral complexity won new literary respectability for the hardboiled genre previously pioneered by Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. They have also received praise from such celebrated writers as William Goldman, Jonathan Kellerman, Eudora Welty and Elmore Leonard.… (more)

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