The Way Some People Die

by Ross Macdonald

I put on a tie and jacket, and loaded a revolver.

Iconic detective Lew Archer is introduced to us in the first novel contained in this Library of America set, though it is the third Lew Archer novel in Macdonald’s bibliography. Ross Macdonald is the pseudonym used by Kenneth Millar.

Private detective Archer is hired by a relatively poor woman to find her daughter, whom Archer soon learns is a firecracker when it comes to men. As he searches for her he discovers she’s been mixed up with mobsters and may not be so squeaky-clean herself. The criminal elements are introduced and the body count increases while Archer attempts to unravel the mystery.

Considered one of the early masters of crime fiction, Macdonald serves up a story here that has much of the complexity of stories like The Maltese Falcon. Mysteries like this, where the (first-person) narrator starts in the dark and stays there throughout most of the book, require a bit more patience from the reader than many other crime thrillers where suspense is key. While this is a cracking mystery, the suspense factor is relatively low and won’t be tying your stomach in knots.

The Way Some People Die is a very good book, an early crime wonder with a challenging plot. It’s hardboiled, but this isn’t the drink, shoot, then drink-while-shooting action that many hardboiled detectives exhibit, with Archer being more akin to Hammett’s Continental Op or Chandler’s Philip Marlowe than Spillaine’s Mike Hammer.

It takes all types.

“You hurt her feelings,” I said. “It’s never a good idea to hurt a woman’s feelings. If you have to rob them, you should try to do it without hurting their feelings.”

3+ stars

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