Sleeping Beauty (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard) Paperback – 1 Dec 2000
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"Ross Macdonald is either part or wholly wizard. . .conjuring the magic of real mystery. . . . A masterpiece." --"Chicago Tribune Book World"
"Sleeping Beauty is particularly complex and satisfactory. . . . It is a marvelous formula that Macdonald has found; the wonder is that he keeps improving it." --"Newsweek"
"Ross Macdonald remains the grandmaster, taking the crime novel to new heights by imbuing it with psychological resonance, complexity of story, and richness of style that remain inspiring." --Jonathan Kellerman
From the Inside Flap
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.
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
Ross McDonald follows Archer’s progress in a neutral style and with lots of dialogue. Situated in 1973, not a word about Vietnam, all the more about WW II, still fresh in the minds of several key protagonists. Subtle, sincere and authentic throughout and carefully composed.
I enjoy rereading crime and spy writers of the 1960s and -70s to see how their books compare with today’s offerings. Most oldies worked alone or with a little help from their friends, eschewing the latest technology (Le Carré) or partially making it up (Deighton). Salvage consultant Travis McGee probed deep into various Florida-based scams and earning models; to get the details right, his creator John D. McDonald may have paid a researcher or two. Today’s virtual arms race among authors re digital matters, makes paid outside expertise indispensible. In addition, books have also increasingly been produced on creative assembly lines employing a dozen or more specialists full time, netting 3-4 titles annually, e.g. the late Tom Clancy, Harlan Coben. In other words, writing, once purely a craft, has become more industrial.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.