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Sleeping Beauty (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard) [Paperback]

Ross MacDonald , Richard S. Hutchinson
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Dec 2000 Vintage Crime/Black Lizard
In Sleeping Beauty, Lew Archer finds himself the confidant of a
wealthy, violent family with a load of trouble on their hands--including an oil spill, a missing girl, a lethal dose of Nembutal, a six-figure ransom, and a stranger afloat, face down, off a private beach. Here is Ross Macdonald's masterful tale of buried memories, the consequences of arrogance, and the anguished relations between parents and their children. Riveting, gritty, tautly written, Sleeping Beauty is crime fiction at its best.

If any writer can be said to have inherited the mantle of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, it is Ross Macdonald. Between the late 1940s and his death in 1983, he gave the American crime novel a psychological depth and moral complexity that his pre-decessors had only hinted at. And in the character of Lew Archer, Macdonald redefined the private eye as a roving conscience who walks the treacherous frontier between criminal guilt and human sin.

Product details

  • Paperback: 271 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Books; Reprint edition (Dec 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375708669
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375708664
  • Product Dimensions: 20.2 x 13.2 x 1.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,118,490 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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4.0 out of 5 stars Deserves to be a film 28 Aug 2012
Those old Archer - I'm sorry, `Harper' - movies are a curious pair. The first is your standard, shiny Sixties thriller with lots of good looking people involved in a vastly complicated plot, whilst the other is very much grungy Seventies and actually quite dull. In both, Paul Newman does little more than a schoolboy detective impression. The reason I bring them up is that `Sleeping Beauty' - this volume of Archer's adventures - has a tremendously visual opening, where our cipher-like detective flies over and then visits one of his favourite beauty spots, which is now being spoilt by a huge oil leak. The contrast of golden beaches, threatened by this pumping black menace coming out of the once clear blue sea, is incredibly well done. It (and the complex case which follows it) deserves to be realised on film, and I'm amazed that it didn't occur to any eco-minded film producer as The Gulf of Mexico disaster took place last year.

Lew Archer once again travels through deceptions and age-old family secrets, as a young woman's disappearance gradually becomes a kidnapping, before turning into a couple of murders. MacDonald writes scenes which have a real crackle, there's a great rhythm to his interrogations and a nice eye for detail that stops them becoming repetitive. The case in question is twisty as hell (one of the writers it actually brought to mind was Christie, in the way that everyone is given a motivation to have done it, or at least be part of it), but the denouement manages to be satisfyingly surprising.

So come on then Hollywood money-men: any actor portraying a Phillip Marlowe these days would have to face the near impossible touch of matching Humphrey Bogart; while anyone playing Lew Archer only has to beat Paul Newman pretending to be Humphrey Bogart - and surely that's possible.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Another bullseye for Lew Archer 24 Feb 2005
Basically, all the Lew Archer novels share the same plot of old crimes with long deadly shadows and dysfunctional families - but the author delivers fresh goods every time. This time Archer by accident meets a vulnerable young woman who runs off into the night with a box of sleeping pills. He spends the rest of the novel looking for her, meeting the oil-rich Lennox family and some of the people sharing their dark secrets.
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Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars  10 reviews
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Oil Spill Parallels the Collapse of the Imposing Lennox Family 27 May 2007
By Michael Wischmeyer - Published on Amazon.com
Having just read Sleeping Beauty once again, I find myself perilously close to starting a cycle of rereading all eighteen Lew Archer mysteries. Sleeping Beauty is among the last of the Archer novels, and yet it would serve quite well as starting point for a reader new to Ross MacDonald's private detective.

As Lew Archer's flight returns to Los Angeles from Mexico, he looks down upon a large oil spill extending for miles off Pacific Point. That evening along the coast he encounters a young, angry woman attempting to rescue oil-drenched sea birds. Before the night is out, Archer has been employed to rescue the woman herself, thought to have been kidnapped. Her grandfather is the patriarch of the imposing Lennox family, and chairman of the company that is responsible for the spreading oil slick.

Lew Archer is essential to MacDonald's mysteries, but not as an action figure. Archer's task is to unravel the psychological complexities that define his clients, the suspects, and the victims. Often the solution to a crime lays in the distant past; later generations sometimes pay severe penalties for old sins.

The Lennox family skeletons are many. The plot is complicated and twists unexpectedly as Archer uncovers buried family memories and hidden infidelities, some stretching back to World War II. Tautly told in the manner of a Chandler mystery, Sleeping Beauty is superb detective fiction.

Lew Archer is often mentioned in conjunction with Dashiell Hammett's Sam Spade and Raymond Chandler's Phillip Marlowe, and is generally deemed as their natural heir. The respected literary critic and writer, Anthony Boucher, even argued that Ross Macdonald was a better novelist than either Hammett or Chandler.

Ross MacDonald was a pseudonym for Kenneth Millar. In the early 1970s Millar and his wife Margaret Millar (also a successful mystery author) helped lead protests following the large oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara. Many of the Archer stories take place in and around Santa Teresa, a fictionalized version of Santa Barbara.
22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ross MacDonald's Best 8 Mar 2001
By Brad S. Leyhe - Published on Amazon.com
One of the obvious observations about Ross MacDonald's series of Lew Archer detective novels is that they are essentially the same story. Eerily MacDonald's plot lines reflect his own troubled and unsettled childhood. On the surface, this novel is about a very troubled young woman that seems to be in the wrong place at the precisely wrong times. It seems impossible that she could be innocent of anything or everything. Nevertheless, true to MacDonald's plot form, the real villains are the immature adults that compounded their original sins year by year, lie by lie. The true crime always is years in the past in Ross MacDonald's novels. The perpetrator forever spends his or her life covering up the original crime and always enmeshing his or her child into the original felony.
Ross MacDonald's prose is simply pure art. He settles you into the tacky 40's through 60's of California and then contrasts the empty lives of the rich and the destitute. He exposes his characters as being very troubled and not very innocent. Archer, his guide/protagonist is dogged as the revelation of the true perpetrator(s) slowly emerges. Terse first person narration gives this novel a stunning sense of realism.
This is a really wonderful detective novel, a form of noir that is so special. Vintage Crime/Lizard Press has reissued most of the Archer series and they remain as vital, and entertaining as when they were first printed. I recommend working through the whole series of these wonderful reprints.
However, having read them all and having read most of them several times over, this in my opinion is the best by a far measure. The best of this series is perhaps the best of all detective novels. Chandler and Hammett did not have the power of prose that Ross MacDonald so effortlessly spins.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best audio book I've heard 12 Feb 2002
By Ken Braithwaite - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio Cassette
This is a superlative production. Yulin doesn't merely read, he performs, and his voice matches the role. The other parts are nearly all well played, and the music never intrudes. Atmospheric and involving for 9 hours!
The book is one of MacDonald's last, and it has some of the overwrought quality that mar his later books, but this is only occasionally a distraction.
For those looking for other MacDonalds, the best are The Chill, Far Side of the Dollar, the Zebra-Striped Hearse, The Galton Case (all from 1959-65).
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ross MacDonald at his prime 1 Feb 2009
By D. Sturm - Published on Amazon.com
*possible spoilers*

When I was a young man in the seventies, I was a devoted reader of Ross MacDonald. Since then, I have moved on to Michael Connelly, Laura Lippman and Lawrence Block. And many others. In digging through some old boxes of books I came across "Sleeping Beauty" by MacDonald. I remembered nothing about it except that it had impressed me long ago. So I reread it.

Some observations:

Unlike so much of current detective fiction, there is virtually no back story to PI Lew Archer here except for the fact that he is a former cop from Long Beach. In age when so many fictional detectives live in an ongoing soap opera, that was refreshing. For that reason, this novel makes a good place to start for the Archer uninitiated.

MacDonald's choice of plot lines for his novels varies little. The Archer novels usually start with a missing young person. Archer is hired. Three generations are introduced. A crime was committed decades earlier by the oldest generation. The next generation covered it up (and often got rich). Sins of the past come to haunt the third generation. All is on display here.

This novel requires and rewards close reading. It is not slam-bang hard boiled. It intricately picks apart the history of a family that has long been in denial about the rotten things done in the past.

Archer never gets shot, punched out or hit over the head in this book. As for gunplay, it's all off screen. What crime writer could pull this off today? Well, maybe Connelly.

Red herrings? A ton of them. Don't even try to guess the ending, which only appears on the final page. But it takes your breath away.

Lauren, the "kidnapped" girl who launches the action and who everyone is trying to find, doesn't die but never takes the stage.

Class war. Rich vs. poor is a constant theme for MacDonald. How do different classes intersect? Sex.

In contrast so so many PI-cop interactions in other novels where the cops snarl, "Stay off this case, shamus, if you know what's good for you," Archer is treated with total respect by the cops on the case. In fact, the level of respect and freedom to act by the cops is downright remarkable. In fact again, in a multiple-murder and kidnapping case involving a rich California family, the cops barely appear as a footnote.

MacDonald beautifully incorporates the "sin" of environmental depradation (an oil spill) with the more more human sin of murder.

Ken Millar, RIP. Your books are still being read.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Family secrets. 28 April 2006
By Michael G. - Published on Amazon.com
William Lennox, patriarch of the Lennox clan, has become very rich by virtue of his success in the oil business. But now he has been cursed two-fold. One of his wells off the coast of southern California has ruptured resulting in an uncontrolled eco-disaster involving a large segment of shoreline that ironically enough includes his own beachfront property.

At the same time, the youngest member of the Lennox family, William's married granddaughter, Laurel Lennox Russo has disappeared under mysterious circumstances. As Lew Archer searches high and low for beautiful and troubled Laurel, he uncovers a twisted saga of family dysfunction, duplicity and murder that goes back 25 years and more.

It's not hard to see the parallels between the two storylines. Drilling for oil in geologically unstable offshore terrain is likely to result in disaster. In a similar fashion, a family dynasty held together by a matrix of lies and deceit may implode upon itself at any given time.

Sleeping Beauty is worthy of a 5 star rating for a number of reasons. The characters are interesting and well fleshed out. The dialogue is authentic sounding. Macdonald's descriptive prose, always first rate, is particularly brilliant here. Moreover, the wickedly complex plot all comes together in the final pages.

Ross Macdonald wrote this novel toward the end of a very long and prolific literary career. The decades of experience show.
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