|Vintage Pulp||May 27 2020|
Above, a 1959 cover painted by James Meese for John Ross MacDonald's 1950 thriller The Drowning Pool. We looked at a 1951 cover for this a while back, but rather than talk about the story made some dumb jokes and called it a day. So about the book. The novel features franchise detective Lew Archer trying to solve a drowning murder while dealing with a family torn apart over an inheritance. Liking the book is a matter of liking the character. Archer is cynical, quippy, and pretty rude most of the time—in short, a typical mid-century fictional detective. And therein lies the issue. He's standard, which means the mystery needs to be unique, but instead it's a drop-off from the series debut The Moving Target. It's not bad, though, and consensus is the eighteen Archer adventures improve as they progress. We'll see, because we plan to keep reading them. Hopefully Archer will make us glad he survived this gun to his head.
|Vintage Pulp||Dec 1 2018|
In this world that he's accepted as more complex than he'd like it to be, he navigates using a solid personal code and a very hard skull—both severely tested multiple times. We gather the story is considered unremarkable compared to later Archer novels, but for us it was entirely satisfactory. It satisfied Hollywood too, which made it into a star vehicle for Paul Newman called Harper. Why the name of the detective was changed we can't even begin to guess, but we saw the movie a couple of years ago and it was enjoyable. Below you see a 1959 Pocket Books edition of The Moving Target with Jerry Allison art. More from MacDonald later.
|Vintage Pulp||Jun 1 2015|
We love this Ray App cover for John Ross MacDonald’s, aka Kenneth Millar's mystery The Drowning Pool because it’s incredibly bizarre. Plot of the book aside (it’s the second Lew Archer novel), there can be only two reasons for the female figure to be positioned as she is—she’s either standing in a rowboat, presumably for the pure pleasure of it, or she’s trying to conceal her mermaid half. She shouldn’t worry about hiding, though—generally guys don’t hang around the docks unless they’re at least a little interested in seafood. 1950 original copyright, and 1951 on the paperback.
|Vintage Pulp||May 9 2011|
Margaret Millar was a respected writer who won the Mystery Writers of America's Grand Master Award in 1983, and happened to be the wife of acclaimed pulp author Ross MacDonald, aka Kenneth Millar. The air she has in mind here isn’t a physical thing, but rather the emotions of guilt and suspicion. Still though, it’s kind of a funny title, because when you consider how married couples get after a few decades together, it’s easy to imagine old Ross’s reaction every time Margaret let one slip. He probably smirked and said, “Jesus, there really is an air that kills.”
Anyway, the book is a mystery in which a married couple’s seemingly stable existence is rocked when the wife reveals that she’s pregnant with another man’s baby. That man soon turns up dead, drowned in his car at the bottom of a lake. However, this isn’t a straightforward puzzler. There are elements of melodrama, and the plot is stretched out over an extended period as we see the couple split and begin to live separate lives. But of course the mystery underpins everything, eventually circling back to center upon the woman’s new child.
An Air that Kills is considered by some to be Millar’s best work, and indeed she's considered by many critics to be one of the better writers of her era. She established a career before her husband did, though that doesn't seem to be as widely known as it probably should. In terms of writerly skill, we aren’t really qualified to say whether she's better than her spouse, but we’re sure it made for some interesting discussions and slightly edgy ribbing at the MacDonald/Millar dinner table. We highly recommend this book.