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The Doomsters    by Ross Macdonald order for
by Ross Macdonald
Order:  USA  Can
Vintage, 2007 (2007)

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* * *   Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth

The Doomsters was Ross Macdonald's twenty-fourth book. Macdonald was born in 1915, published his first novel in 1944, and died in 1983. He wrote what I remember being called hardboiled detective mysteries along with authors like Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe. Some of his books are being re-published. Old movies have been remade time after time with changes made along the way to bring them up-to-date. That has not happened with Macdonald's books. They are what they are, for which I am glad.

Carl Hallman, an escapee from a mental institution, hires Lew Archer to investigate the suspicious deaths of both his mother Alicia and his father, Senator Hallman. As Hallman is being hunted by a large armed posse, Lew meets the members of the Hallman family. After a murder which is blamed on Carl, Archer moves fast to prevent Carl being gunned down by a trigger happy sheriff and tries to protect Carl's wife.

The Doomsters contains the ultimate in dysfunctional families with characters you love to hate - and others you would like to love but aren't sure are worth the emotion. Macdonald writes his story mostly in dialogue that is tense and terse, thus making the tale jump from the pages. The crowning glory of this book, in my estimation, is his ability to use similes that are succinct as well as beautiful: 'Where the ash-blond ghosts were twittering, and the hype dream beat with persistent violence, like colored music, trying to drown them out'; or 'Darkness flooded my mind for an instant, whirling like black water in which three bodies turned unburied.'

Macdonald's descriptive abilities make a scene come alive. This book is not a feel-good type of mystery, a cozy, where the bad guys get their comeuppance and the good guys ride off into a beautiful sunset to a new beginning. Its premise is noir more dark than any of us would ever experience but here it seems very real. Ross Macdonald's books are more than words on a page. They show us how the craft of writing can be done. Successfully.

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