Ross Macdonald was born on 13 December, 1915 in Los Gatos, California and died on 11 July, 1983 in Santa Barbara, California of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Ross Macdonald was the pseudonym of the American-Canadian writer of crime fiction Kenneth Millar. Ross Macdonald is best known for his highly acclaimed series of hardboiled novels set in southern California and featuring private detective Lew Archer.
Ross Macdonald was raised in his parents’ native Kitchener, Ontario, Canada, where he started college. When his father abandoned his family unexpectedly, Ross 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. Ross Macdonald began his career writing stories for pulp magazines. Ross 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. Ross Mcdonald 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.
Ross Macdonald’s popular detective Lew Archer derives his name from Sam Spade’s partner Miles Archer and from Lew Wallace, author of Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ. Ross 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 1st in a series of 18) would become the basis for the 1966 Paul Newman film Harper. In the early 1950s, he returned to California, settling for some 30 years in Santa Barbara, the area where most of his books were set. (Ross 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.
Ross Macdonald is the primary heir to Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler as the master of American hardboiled mysteries. Ross Macdonald’s writing built on the pithy style of his predecessors by adding psychological depth and insights into the motivations of his characters. Ross 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. Ross Macdonald deftly combined the two sides of the mystery genre, the “whodunit” and the psychological thriller. Even his regular readers seldom saw a Ross Macdonald denouement coming.
Inspired by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ross 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”.
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