I reread "The Way Some People Die," by Ross Macdonald, the third novel featuring his private eye protagonist Lew Archer, published in 1951. Macdonald is the best American writer of private eye novels. His dark, impressionistic style is both poetic and bleak. He specializes in descriptions that move from reality to metaphysics, like this one from "The Way Some People Die:"

“When I stepped out of my car the night shot up like a tree and branched wide into blossoming masses of stars. Under their far cold lights I felt weak and little. If a fruit fly lived for one day instead of two, it hardly seemed to matter. Except to another fruit fly.”

Or the metaphorical description that captures the mystery of a moment, like this, from "Black Money:"

“The sun burned like a fire ship on the water, sinking slowly till only a red smoke was left trailing up the sky. A fishing boat was headed into the harbor, black and small against the enormous west. Above its glittering wake a few gulls whirled like sparks which had gone out.” 

Macdonald was brilliant at capturing the essence of people and their destructiveness. His plots drive forward relentlessly and readers are carried along like passengers riding in Archer's car as he drives sleeplessly up and down the California coast, driven it seems not by money or a sense of justice but a passion to dive into the dark hearts of the people he encounters.

Macdonald is one of the few writers I like to reread (John D. Macdonald, a very different sort of writer with the same last name, is another). His novels seem to always have more to offer, in style and substance. 

Will Doolittle is projects editor at The Post-Star. He may be reached at will@poststar.com and followed on his blog, I think not, and on Twitter at

@trafficstatic.

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