Ross Macdonald belongs on the Mount Rushmore of American mystery writers, alongside Edgar Allen Poe, Dashiell Hammett, and Raymond Chandler. He was also a connoisseur of the detective story, as he displays in this terrific 1965 Show magazine essay, “The Writer as Detective Hero,” one of a handful of nonfiction pieces that appear in a new Library of America anthology, Ross Macdonald: Four Novels of the 1950s, edited by Tom Nolan. If you are a fan of mysteries, this collection is a must, another beautiful and meticulous Library of America volume. Reprinted here with permission, this is a master class given by a peerless practitioner.
A producer who last year was toying with the idea of making a television series featuring my private detective Lew Archer asked me over lunch at Perino’s if Archer was based on any actual person. “Yes,” I said. “Myself.” He gave me a semi-pitying Hollywood look. I tried to explain that while I had known some excellent detectives and watched them work, Archer was created from the inside out. I wasn’t Archer, exactly, but Archer was me.