Tom Nolan has written a first-class biography of Macdonald and it is not my aim to compete with him. I hope that my own work, which focusses almost exclusively on Macdonald’s books, is a useful supplement to Nolan, who discusses the books only as necessary to tell the story of Macdonald’s life. But understanding the books written after 1956 requires at least a brief review of the sad life of his only child, Linda. The full story can be found in Nolan, pp 163-214.
Neither Linda’s father nor her mother were well-equipped to be parents. Ross’s father had abandoned the family, and his mother, a weak and erratic woman, was in his life only intermittently. Except for a brief period in his early teens he never saw an example of a loving, supportive relationship. Margaret Millar was aloof, cold, and self-absorbed. Further, their work habits of long hours of solitude when they were not to be disturbed, inflicted further damage on their daughter.
To cut to the chase, by the time she even began her teenage years Linda was running wild, drinking heavily, having sex with numerous boys, staying out all hours, and systematically lying about it. Macdonald, who was so good at creating a sleuth who saw through all deception, always took his daughter’s side. In 1956 Linda caused a hit and run accident while drunk, killing one young man and injuring two others. She fled the scene and smashed into a parked car. She then tried to lie her way out of it all.
The revelation of the true nature of his daughter, and his own failures as a father, was devastating to Macdonald personally, physically, and financially. Eventually, due to Macdonald’s social position in the community, her crimes and lawsuits were swept under the rug with a prison sentence of only two months. Archer would have viewed his creator’s influence peddling with contempt.
And then it got worse.
Linda managed to graduate high school and started college but accumulated several more drunk driving charges which her father dutifully fixed. In 1959, in an incident that Nolan refused to fully explain, she disappeared from college with two men. Macdonald went on national television pleading for his daughter to come home. His blood pressure went so high that he had to be hospitalized. He hired a private investigator who located her in Reno and brought her back to California, where she spent another stint in a mental hospital. Although she eventually returned to college, she never graduated. She married and had one child, a son, before dying at the age of 31, very possibly from the aftereffects of a lifetime of drug abuse. Her son, who Macdonald doted on, died of a drug overdose in his twenties.