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Ross Macdonald

Born Kenneth Millar
December 13, 1915(1915-12-13)
Los Gatos, California
Died July 11, 1983 (aged 67)
Santa Barbara, California
Pen name John Macdonald, John Ross Macdonald, Ross Macdonald
Occupation Novelist
Nationality American-Canadian
Alma mater University of Michigan
Genres Crime fiction
Spouse(s) Margaret Millar

Ross Macdonald is the pseudonym of the American-Canadian writer of crime fiction Kenneth Millar (December 13, 1915, Los Gatos, California - July 11, 1983, Santa Barbara, California). He is best known for his highly acclaimed series of hardboiled novels set in southern California and featuring private detective Lew Archer.


Life and work

Millar was born in Los Gatos, California and raised in his parents' native Kitchener, Ontario, Canada, where he started college. When his father abandoned his family unexpectedly, Macdonald lived with his mother and various relatives, moving several times by his sixteenth year. The prominence of broken homes and domestic problems in his fiction has its roots in his youth.

In Canada, he met and married Margaret Sturm in 1938. They had a daughter, Linda, who died in 1970. He began his career writing stories for pulp magazines. Macdonald attended the University of Michigan, where he earned a Phi Beta Kappa key and a Ph. D. in literature. While doing graduate study, he completed his first novel, The Dark Tunnel, in 1944. At this time, he wrote under the name John Macdonald, in order to avoid confusion with his wife, who was achieving her own success writing as Margaret Millar. He then changed briefly to John Ross Macdonald before settling on Ross Macdonald, in order to avoid mixups with contemporary John D. MacDonald. After serving at sea as a naval communications officer from 1944 to 1946, he returned to Michigan, where he obtained his Ph.D. degree.

Macdonald's popular detective Lew Archer derives his name from Sam Spade's partner[1] Miles Archer and from Lew Wallace, author of Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ. Macdonald first introduced the tough but humane private eye in the 1946 short story "Find the Woman." A full-length novel, The Moving Target, followed in 1949. This novel (the first in a series of eighteen) would become the basis for the 1966 Paul Newman film Harper.[2] In the early 1950s, he returned to California, settling for some thirty years in Santa Barbara, the area where most of his books were set. (Macdonald's fictional name for Santa Barbara was Santa Teresa; this "pseudonym" for the town was subsequently resurrected by Sue Grafton, whose "alphabet novels" are also set in Santa Teresa.) The very successful Lew Archer series, including bestsellers The Goodbye Look, The Underground Man, and Sleeping Beauty, concluded with The Blue Hammer in 1976. Macdonald died of Alzheimer's Disease.


Macdonald is the primary heir to Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler as the master of American hardboiled mysteries. His writing built on the pithy style of his predecessors by adding psychological depth and insights into the motivations of his characters. Macdonald's plots were complicated, and often turned on Archer's unearthing family secrets of his clients and of the criminals who victimized them. Lost or wayward sons and daughters were a theme common to many of the novels. Macdonald deftly combined the two sides of the mystery genre, the "whodunit" and the psychological thriller. Even his regular readers seldom saw a Macdonald denouement coming.

Inspired by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Macdonald's writing was hailed by genre fans and literary critics alike. Author William Goldman called his works "the finest series of detective novels ever written by an American".


Lew Archer Novels

  • The Moving Target - 1949 (filmed with Paul Newman as Harper, 1966)
  • The Drowning Pool - 1950 (also filmed with Paul Newman as "Lew Harper", 1975)
  • The Way Some People Die - 1951
  • The Ivory Grin (aka Marked for Murder) - 1952
  • Find a Victim - 1954
  • The Barbarous Coast - 1956
  • The Doomsters - 1958
  • The Galton Case - 1959
  • The Wycherly Woman - 1961
  • The Zebra-Striped Hearse - 1962
  • The Chill - 1964
  • The Far Side of the Dollar - 1965
  • Black Money - 1966
  • The Instant Enemy - 1968
  • The Goodbye Look - 1969
  • The Underground Man - 1971 (filmed as a television series pilot in 1974)
  • Sleeping Beauty - 1973
  • The Blue Hammer - 1976

Lew Archer Short Stories

  • The Name is Archer (paperback original containing 7 stories) - 1955
  • Lew Archer: Private Investigator (The Name is Archer + 2 additional stories) - 1977

Lew Archer Omnibuses

  • Archer in Hollywood - 1967
  • Archer at Large - 1970
  • Archer in Jeopardy - 1979

Other Novels
--writing as John Macdonald

--writing as Ross Macdonald

  • Meet Me at the Morgue (aka Experience With Evil) - 1953
  • The Ferguson Affair - 1960


  1. ^ In his foreword to the Archer in Hollywood omnibus, Macdonald wrote: "Archer in his early days, though he was named for Sam Spade's partner, was patterned on Chandler's Marlowe."
  2. ^ According to Tom Nolan's biography of Macdonald, Newman got Archer's name changed because his previous two hit movies, Hud and The Hustler, had started with "H".


Bruccoli, Matthew J. Ross Macdonald. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1984. ISBN 0-15-179009-4 | ISBN 0-15-679082-3

Nolan, Tom. Ross Macdonald: A Biography. New York: Scribner, 1999. ISBN 0-684-81217-7

Nolan, Tom. "The Archer Files". Crippen & Landru 2007

Schopen, Bernard "Ross MacDonald"

External links



Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Keith Millar (1915-12-13 - 1983-07-11), who wrote under the pseudonym Ross Macdonald, was an American-Canadian writer of mystery fiction and detective fiction.



The Moving Target (1949)

  • Nothing wrong with Southern California that a rise in the ocean wouldn't cure.

The Way Some People Die (1951)

  • An ugly woman with a gun is a terrible thing.
  • The delicate sensitivity of a frightened rattlesnake.

The Drowning Pool (1952)

  • They had jerrybuilt the beaches from San Diego to the Golden Gate, bulldozed super-highways through mountains, cut down a thousand year of redwood growth, and built an urban wilderness in the desert. They couldn't touch the ocean. They poured their sewage into it, but it couldn't be tainted.

The Goodbye Look (1969)

  • "You have a secret passion for justice. Why don't you admit it?"
    "I have a secret passion for mercy. But justice is what keeps happening to people."
  • Money costs too much.

Sleeping Beauty (1973)

  • I knew how it was with drunks. They ran out of generosity, even for themselves.
  • Every witness has his own way of creeping up on the truth.

External links

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