The Blue Hammer (1976) by Ross Macdonald

I only read this because I picked it up as part of a job lot of the “Library of Crime” series but thought I’d briefly post about it as it tied in nicely with JJ’s latest podcast.

Although it was written in the Seventies and is actually the last of the Lew Archer novels in a series that began in 1949 it begins with two classic GAD tropes: a stolen painting which may have been painted by a man who disappeared twenty five years ago never to be seen again. This is followed by murders in the present day which may have a connection to a thirty year old murder. The solution itself is as twisty as anything from the Golden Age and yet it’s not a book that I can imagine re-reading.

I think this book has helped to clarify why I generally don’t like private eye stories. Like many this is told in the first person and I think having the detective as narrator is a problem because they often keep their cards close to their chest both from other characters and the reader and they tend to work alone. The classic detective either has their own Watsonesque sidekick or works alongside the police and so you get a back and forth of ideas generally culminating with a big reveal and explanation. In this book you don’t get that sense of progression of the detective’s ideas, any idea of how they have built a case – events happen, people talk, and the truth is found, but not really through any deduction on the part of the detective which to me is unsatisfactory.

Having said all that, this afternoon I picked up an omnibus of Dashiell Hammett’s “The Dain Curse” and “The Glass Key”, but as it was an Everyman Library hardback for just £1, what else was I supposed to do? Here’s to detective fiction in all its guises!

3 thoughts on “The Blue Hammer (1976) by Ross Macdonald”

  1. The Glass Key is Hammett’s best, whereas The Dain Curse is his worst. (In my opinion, of course, Hammett said he agreed with the former and I think he may have agreed with the latter). You have the full spectrum in one volume!


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