THE MOVING TARGET
THE CHANGING LEW ARCHER
The Archer of 1949 is not the Archer of 1976. Readers who approach the series backwards and start with The Blue Hammer, Sleeping Beauty or The Underground Man are in for a shock. By the end of his career, Archer is so quiet that he has been described as a “secular priest.” The Lew Archer of The Moving Target and The Drowning Pool is free with his fists as well as his mouth, and it takes a decade for him to simmer down.
There are a several reasons for this:
- The market for mysteries in 1949 was dominated by the 1947 publication of I, The Jury by Mickey Spillane. For those of you who have been trapped in a mine cave-in since 1946, Mickey Spillane wrote a hyperaggressive, hypersexual detective who never meet a gun he didn’t want to shoot, or a woman he—oh, never mind. As much as Macdonald detested Spillane and all his works, Spillane was hugely successful. One of the many humiliations Macdonald had to endure was instructions from his publisher Alfred Knopf to write a tougher, more physical detective. Macdonald was a professional with a family to feed.
- Macdonald was in 32 (and Archer was 35) when he wrote The Moving Target and 59 when The Blue Hammer appeared, placing Archer in his early sixties.
- A detective ages along with his writer. It is damned hard to put yourself into the head of a character of another generation. Perhaps even harder than to write a character of the opposite sex.
- A personal note about the aging process with a series character. When I wrote the first novel of the Dave Garrett series in 1989, my character was 40, one year older than I. When I revived my series two years ago I was 69. My detective must always be 40 because my series is about the twelve months of 1990. Writing a character 30 years younger is a serious act of imagination and I confess that at times he acts older than 40. In Cold July he was driving through the town where the crime occurred and wondering if this would be a good retirement spot . . . I have reached the point of inventing work-arounds to deal with the age gap. In August Hearts, Dave is hospitalized for a large chunk of the book after being beaten up on a case, a plot device that worked very well.
The take-away is that the Lew Archer you have met is going to be thirty years older by the time you say your last good-bye, and be prepared to watch him change.
Next we turn to The Drowning Pool.