Thursday, March 31, 2016

(No.298) Justin Trudeau & electoral reform


"Justin Trudeau and Canadian electoral reform:

   spare us the 'sunny ways' "

by Alastair Rickard


I have written columns about the need for reform of Canada's 'first past the post' (FPTP) electoral system -- for example RickardsRead column no. 267.

During the Oct. 15, 2015 federal election campaign all of the parties except the Conservatives espoused the need for electoral reform. Liberal leader and now Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised that if a Liberal government was elected electoral reform would be in place within 18 months.

The Liberal winning of a majority of the seats in the House of Commons was widely greeted in the media, especially among the usual cable news talking heads and newspaper columnists as a 'great victory', even as a 'landslide'.

So anxious were certain media voices to welcome the arrival of Justin Trudeau's "sunny ways" government and the departure of the unfriendly (to the press) Harper government that hyperbole -- occasionally merely ghost milk -- was the journalistic order of the day.

Indeed the increase in the proportion of Canadian voters who turned out last October ( 68.3% in 2015 vs 61.1% in 2011) was widely characterized as evidence of the overwhelming desire of the electorate to replace the Harper government with Trudeau's Liberals.

Since taking office Prime Minsister Justin "sunny ways" Trudeau has habitually explained and defended his changes and policy initiatives, especially the reversal of Harper government legislation and policy, by declaring that 'Canadians' voted for Liberal change in the election.

A majority of Canadian voters did nothing of the sort. The Liberal majority of seats in the Commons was a result not reflective of the votes of a majority of Canadians -- thanks to FPTP. In terms of the Liberals' share of voter popularity being the voice of Canadians, that is Prime Minister Trudeau's self-constructed and self-serving political spin. It was the same spin the Tories also found politically useful.

A bit more than a third of Canadian voters supported the Trudeau Liberals. Indeed -- and I have seen this fact noted nowhere in the effusions of the media's chattering classes -- the Trudeau Liberals actually received a lower share (39.5%) of Canadians' votes in 2015 than the Harper government did in 2011 (39.6%). This rather less than impressive popular result was achieved notwithstanding the tsunami of 2.9 million more voters (supposedly pro-change) who came out in the last election.

Post-Oct 15 election analyses indicated that, had the Trudeau Liberals' preferred type of electoral reform been in place (i.e., ranked/preferred ballot), their 39.5% share of the actual votes cast in 2015 would have provided them with an even larger majority of the seats in the Commons. Another excellent illustration of the need for genuine proportional representation.

Many if not most of those (including me) who have supported meaningful electoral reform of the FPTP system advocate some form of proportional representation.

"Sunny ways" Trudeau has decided that the type of reform of Canada's FPTP electoral system will be considered and chosen by a House of Commons committee, a majority of the members of which will be Liberals. Moreover such a de facto change to Canada's constitution will apparently not be submitted to Canadians for approval in a referendum.

If this Trudeau government approach to democracy is supposed to be an improvement on that of the Harper Tories, please spare me such sunny ways.

************************

email: Alastair.Rickard@sympatico.ca

blog: www.RickardsRead.com

previous columns & blog archive:
to access previous columns and this blog's archive, the links to which
are listed chronologically in the margin of each column
as it appears on the RickardsRead.com, go to
any column and follow the links

to set a "Google alert"for RickardsRead columns 
in order to receive notice automatically of new columns
as they are posted to RickardsRead.com, go to
www.Google.com/alert

***************************




Sunday, January 10, 2016

(No.297) "Is RickardsRead going away?"


"Is RickardsRead going away?"

by Alastair Rickard

After the posting of my December column about Joseph Belth's "Memoir" I received the following email from a Canadian actuary and (apparently) a regular reader of RickardsRead:

"Many thanks for your blog RickardsRead and particularly your latest post about Joe Belth earlier this month. I was beginning to wonder whether you'd taken a "permanent holiday" given the dearth of posts since late summer. Very pleased to learn, however, that that's not the case.

"By way of a brief introduction, I am an actuary with ties to the Canadian life insurance distribution network via my father who sold life insurance and managed career agents over his 27-year career with the Canadian branch of a US company. So, the issues and concerns -- about product design and marketing practices -- perennially described in the pages of
The Insurance Forum frequently resonated with me too. You were quite correct in noting the clarity of Joe Belth's written exposition, especially when one considers how much smoke passes for insurance industry analysis and reporting.


"Know too that you are also writing in the tradition of Joe Belth with your blog and thereby fulfilling an important role. The mainstream media seems unable to properly cover Canadian insurance company bad acts (e.g. mismanagement of par funds, unhedged seg fund products). Enter RickardsRead." 


This correspondent was generous in his comments about RickardsRead -- and he's correct when he points out the gradual decline in the rate of posting of my columns.

It's not that I lack subjects to address which engage or irritate me about politics, culture and business. My portfolio of interests is not diminishing.

What I seem to lack as I approach the writing of my 300th column for RickardsRead is my erstwhile level of motivation to pick up a pen rather than, say, the latest novel by C.J. Sansom or Robert Harris or to plan a trip.

After I put on the shelf T
he Canadian Journal of LIfe Insurance (which, while employed by a life insurance company, I founded and edited more years ago than I care to recall) I suggested that I had said everything I ever wanted to say about the insurance business -- at least twice. 

Of course that was hyperbole but seemed apt nonetheless as was my recent response to a request for my attention to a certain insurance subject:  I am now declining any invitation that would tend to render my life even more fragmentary and futile. 

That latter phrase has stayed with me from a reply I received decades ago from the Canadian writer and critic George Woodcock (1912-1995).

My correspondent inadvertently touched on another reason why I started both CJLI and RickardsRead when he referred -- quite rightly -- to "how much smoke  passes for insurance industry analysis and reporting ....The mainstream media seems unable to properly cover Canadain insurance company bad acts...."

Indeed the pret-a-porter certainties spread about in the business media concerning insurance companies and their industry suggest that many 'analysts' appear to remain personally and confidently innocent of any meaningful encounter with the business.

Unfortunately it is a feature of the financial world and its media groupies (or as I have dubbed them the 'financial services paparazzi') that so many of its inhabitants would rather be wrong as a group than right on their own (q.v., the 2007-8 financial meltdown). 

It's as if they believe that the thin gruel of their analysis will be inspissated by drawing upon one another through that great system of mutual quotation that characterizes so much of what one reads. 

I am not quite ready to put RickardsRead on the internet shelf. At the least there are a number of updates I feel compelled to add to columns I have written on a range of subjects, from the demutualization of the Economical Mutual Insurance Company to Canadian electoral reform.

Until then ....

***************************

email: Alastair.Rickard@sympatico.ca

blog: www.RickardsRead.com

previous columns and blog archive:
to access previous columns and this blog's archive, the links to which
are listed chronologically in the margin beside each column 
as it appears on the RickardsRead.com website, go to
a recent column and use the links

to set a "Google alert" for RickardsRead columns
in order to receive notice automatically of new columns
as they are posted to RickardsRead.com, go to
www.Google.com/alert

*****************************


Sunday, December 6, 2015

(No.296) Joe Belth's "MEMOIR" about life insurance


"A review of Joe Belth's "THE INSURANCE FORUM:A Memoir" 
is Part 3 of the RickardsRead series
about how to buy life insurance"

by Alastair Rickard


I was for years employed in the Canadian life insurance business and at the same time I was an unlikely but persistent critic of it. I was also dismissive of certain journalists, analysts and self-appointed 'expert critics' of the insurance industry, its products and those who distributed them.

Why?

Too many of those in these categories did not (and still do not) understand many of the realities of the life insurance business. Neither in my experience did too many of senior decision-makers in the industry, some of whom were astonishingly ignorant of certain industry fundamentals like agency distribution, an ignorance often compounded by a patronizingly arrogant attitude to those who actually sold a company's core products..

As for industry critics: far too many were and are so far below the bar of expertise set by Professor Joseph Belth during his 40 years as founding editor of The Insurance Forum in the U.S. that reaching it would require jet travel. Yet the industry needs and benefits from informed criticism and commentary.

This brings me back to Joe Belth. He is the person I have long regarded as the ablest and best informed critic and analyst the modern North American life insurance industry has had. Belth is the gold standard against which I have measured myself and others.

(I wrote a column a couple of years ago when Joe marked the 40th anniversary of The Insurance Forum; see RickardsRead No. 250, "The magnificent Joseph Belth: a model for insurance critics", posted Nov. 7, 2013).    

Professor Belth has recently written and published a book of great value to any reader who wishes to understand core issues involving the life insurance business and its products in North America: "The Insurance Forum:  A Memoir". The volume deserves to be a vade-mecum for anyone, including consumers. with a serious interest in the  life insurance business (see below for details of publication and purchase).

In his "Memoir" Joe covers his life and influences but most of the book is comprised of his analysis of and reflections about more than two dozen major aspects of the modern North American life insurance business from (for example) the demutalization wave of life insurance companies through the secondary market for the buying and selling of  inforce life insurance policies to executive compensation in life companies and life insurance polucy replacement. All of the analysis and comment is informed by a truly impressive understanding of the business and its impact on consumers.

This is a book that ought to be read by every insurance regulator (whose understanding of the business they regulate is in my experience too often inadequate), and by agents/brokers as well as those industry analysts and self-styled 'expert critics' who purport to offer consumers and investors informed opinions on a business about which their views are frequently not just inadequate but defective.

Indeed, based on my experience as both a company officer and an editor (The Canadian Journal of Life Insurance) observing, working with and exchanging views with life insurance industry people at various levels, I would if it were possible make Joe Belth's recent "Memoir" required reading in the industry.

The sad reality is that many insurance company executives know less (or little more) about many of the fundamentals of the business in which they work than certain self-promoting 'expert critics' I have encountered through the years.

I have long believed that a major reason for Joe Belth's understanding of and effectiveness as a critic of the life insurance business, its products and their distribution is rooted in the fact that, before becoming involved in various capacities with education about insurance, Joe actually worked for a time as a life insurance agent. He learned first hand important realities of the life insurance business -- pro and con.

Over the years I have written thousands of words for both public and corporate consumption about a fundamental function of the business: selling stuff to people, most of whom (even in the internet age) will not take the initiative to purchase. Hence the historical and continuing centrality of the active, prospecting agency system of distribution in taking a core product -- individual life insurance as well as various other financial products -- to consumers and convincing them to purchase it to meet a need, a product still at the base of a proper financial planning pyramid.

I have never made this fundamental point as elegantly or as succinctly as Joe Belth does in the conclusion to his "Memoir". His prose is never obscure or less than understandable

Among other observations he concludes that one of the fundamental obstacles faced by the life insurance business has been and is "that the purchase of life insurance requires consumers to think about the unpleasant subject of their deaths and take action rather than procrastinate. As it is often said: 'life insurance is sold not bought'.

"The significance of this obstacle," he continues,"is that life insurnace companies must hire and train life insurance agents to seek out customers ... [and] persuade their customers to take action rather than wait until next year. I call the latter the critical but difficult anti-procrastination function of life insurrance agents.

"The further significance of this obstacle is that a life insurance company must provide the agent with  a strong financial incentive to engage in a difficult and often discouraging type of work. ... Most people die without wills because no one is compensated for performing the anti-procrastination function."

I recommend Joe Belth's book highly, including to existing or potential life insurance consumers who
seek to understand whether what they are being told involving this core product is understandable and reliable
                                                              ***

The hard cover book "The Insurance Forum: A Memoir" by Joseph A. Belth is available direct from The Insurance Forum at P.O.Box 245, Ellettsville, Indiana 47429. The price is $50 (U.S. funds).  Shipping and handling is included.

For ordering details go to www.theinsuranceforum.com and use the link to Memoirs.  


*************************

email: Alastair.Rickard@sympatico.ca

blog: www.RickardsRead.com

previous columns and blog archive:
to access previous columns and this blog's archive, the links to which
are listed chronologically in the margin beside each column
as it appears on the RickardsRead website, go to
a recent column and use the links.

to set a "Google Alert" for RickardsRead columns
in order to receive notice automatically of new columns
as they are posted to RickardsRead.com, go to
www.Google.com/alert

*****************************




Thursday, September 24, 2015

(No.295) "E.L. Doctorow, J.K.Rowling, Charles Bukowski, Dennis Lehane & Lee Child": some end of summer reading"


"Some enjoyable end of summer reading in five novels: the forgotten, the underestimated, the unusual, the surprising and the addictive ---  by E.L. Doctorow, J.K. Rowling, Charles Bukowski, Dennis Lehane and Lee Child"

by Alastair Rickard

The recent death at 84 of the American literary novelist E.L. Doctorow generated numerous reflections and tributes by peers and critics and readers. Many people have read one or more of Doctorow's best-known novels such as "Ragtime" and "Billy Bathgate".

I was prompted to read Doctorow's first novel from 1960 (still in print) "Welcome To Hard Times". Ostensibly it is a western tale set in a small town ca. the 1880s in an unnamed territory not far from the Dakotas.

In fact this tale is really a literary work of fiction as far removed from the typical novels in the American genre of 'westerns' like those by Louis L'Amour as one can imagine. It is a dark tale of the negative effect on the small settlement and its leading characters of a truly sociopathic individual.

The novel was made into a movie Doctorow understandably disliked but Hollywood then as now was unlikely to produce a version of a complex novel pleasing to its author. "Welcome To Hard Times" is worth reading if only to see the point at which Doctorow's novel writing started.

Charles Bukowski was a German born (1920) poet and novelist who came to the U.S. at the age of three. He was raised in Los Angeles and lived there for fifty years. He died in San Pedro California in 1994.

During his often tough and rough life he wrote 45 books of poetry and prose including 5 novels. He gradually developed -- and still has -- a loyal rather than a "best selling" readership.

I recently read his 1982 autobiographical novel "Ham On Rye"(still in print). The novel follows the hardscrabble youth in LA of his alter ego in the book -- Henry Chinaski -- from childhood through to the post-Pearl Harbor American entry into WWII. It is not only an absorbing story but conveys much feeling and impact in its straightforward prose.

Dennis Lehane, a very successful American novelist, may be best known for "Mystic River" which was turned into a successful movie directed by Clint Eastwood.

"Live By Night"(2012) is a tale that unfolds in Boston, Tampa Florida and Cuba during the 1920s and early 1930s. It follows the criminal activity and prison time of Joe Coughlin, the son of a senior but corrupt Boston cop, who makes his money and his reputation in organized crime. It is very well told, a novel that is hard to put down

Lehane continues Coughlin's story in "World Gone By" (2015), a novel set in Tampa and Cuba in the 1940s  For maximum enjoyment the two novels should be read in the order in which they were published. They are very interesting tales.

When J.K. Rowling, the hugely successful creator of the Harry Potter novels, wrote her first non-Potter novel, one for adults called "The Casual Vacancy" (2012), it was as if some book reviewers had been waiting eagerly for the chance to bring down a literary notch or two the world's most commercially successful novelist. Indeed Rowling came to believe that she would receive unbiased reviews from the literary paparazzi for a non-Potter novel written for adults only if critics did not know they were reviewing a novel she had written.

Hence the use by Rowling of the pseudonym Robert Galbraith for the first novel "The Cuckoo's Calling"(her second 'adult' novel after the "The Casual Vacancy") in what by now has turned out to be a series featuring a London private detective and one-legged ex-soldier named Cormoran Strike.

Her identity as its author was leaked but not before a number of critics had given 'Galbraith's first novel' favourable reviews. As I indicated previously in RickardsRead I regard Rowling's detective novels as very good indeed.

"The Casual Vacancy" title refers to a legal/administrative reference to the death of a sitting member of a parish council. The novel's plot is kicked off by and subsequently intertwined with the unexpected death of a 'progressive' member of the parish council of the small English town of Pagford  in contemporary Britain.

Rowling wrote a very good novel indeed, a penetrating story of the various conflicts which surface after the councillor's death among a cast of characters, conflicts related to age, class, gender, politics, incomes and race.  The novel has elements that remind me of both Charles Dickens and Jane Austen.

Lee Child is an Englishman and a former director who worked in British television. He is today a famous New York City-based novelist and best selling American writer.

His current fame derives from the huge commercial success of a series of novels featuring an adventure-seeking ex-U.S. Army military police officer named Jack Reacher, a physically fit and imposing man who is violence prone and wanders the country carrying not much more than his toothbrush.

Child has just put out his latest Reacher novel, the twentieth, titled "Make Me" (2015). The Reacher novels are very successful and, while hardly great fiction, they are addictive for many people including me. The publication of a new Reacher novel is a guaranteed fix for addicts. For us "Make Me" has a plot as absorbing and action-filled as any Reacher fan could desire.

******************************

email: Alastair.Rickard@sympatico.ca

blog: www.RickardsRead.com

previous columns & blog archive:
to access previous columns and this blog's archive, the links to which
are listed chronologically in the margin beside each column
as it appears on the RickardsRead website, go to
a recent column and use the links

to set a "Google alert" for RickardsRead columns
in order to receive notice automatically of new columns
as they are posted to RickardsRead.com, go to
www.Google.com/alert

********************************* 




Saturday, September 5, 2015

(No.294) Part 3 of "Two Macdonalds & several other crime novelists"


Part 3 of "Two Macdonalds (Ross and John D.) and
several other crime novelists"

by Alastair Rickard

In my two previous columns (Nos. 292 amd 293) I offered some comments about new or republished novels I have enjoyed by a number of current writers as well as the accumulated works of the late Ross Macdonald and John D. Macdonald.

This column concludes the series.

                                                 *********

The American author Joseph Kanon is a talented writer. His novels are set in different cities and mainly but not entirely at or shortly after the end of world War II. The novels do not repeat characters or plot lines.

"The Prodigal Spy" (1999) takes place in Washington and Prague and involves an American insider who spied for the Russians. "The Alibi" (2009) involves an American officer in Europe at war's end and his involvement with a Jewish-Italian survivor of war crimes. Both are well written -- as one expects from Kanon.

There is hardly a more reliable writer when it comes to each of his novels ascending the American bestseller lists than Michael Connelly. A former journalist, Connelly is the real deal: a certified producer of 'top 10' novels. His longest running character is the Los Angeles Police Dept. detective Harry Bosch. Because his Bosch novels are not frozen in time Connelly reached a point chronologically when Bosch retired.

However, like Ian Rankin's Detective Inspector John Rebus in Edinburgh who was also retired by his creator, Bosch came out of retirement. "The Burning Room" (2014) is the latest published in the series with another (the 20th,"The Crossing") scheduled for publication in November this year.

Vermont state detective Joe Gunther is the central character in more than two dozen crime novels by Archer Mayor. Gunther is surrounded by a continuing cast of police and non-police characters (especially female friends), a pattern continued in "Proof Positive" (2014), the 25th in the series. The next Joe Gunther novel "The Company She kept" will be out this month.

Lee Child is, like Michael Connelly, the creator of a character -- Jack Reacher -- whose appearance in another new story guarantees that novel bestseller standing. Child, an Englishman who once worked in British television, created an American character who is not only an ex-military policeman, large and very tough, but also a wanderer around the U.S. thus facilitating his encountering of all manner of eccentric people and circumstances.

"Personal" (2014) features rather more than usual of Reacher's biographical details but is just as violent as well as difficult for a reader to put down. The 18 Reacher novels are very successful for good reason: they are absorbing. The next Reacher novel, "Make Me", will be out in Sept. this year.

The American novelist John Sandford has created two long running characters: Lucas Davenport, a senior detective in a Minnesota state policy agency and Virgil Flowers, one of his subordinates, For the most part their respectives cases do not overlap.

There are 25 "Prey" novels featuring Davenport; all his stories have "Prey" in the title: and 8 so far featuring Virgil Flowers. The latest from Sandford are "Gathering Prey" (2015) and (with Flowers) "Deadline" (2014). They are well plotted and told in a fashion as interesting as their predecessors in the two series.

Like Joseph Kanon novels, the historical espionage genre of fiction by Alan Furst, a particular favourite of mine, form a series of novels without continuing characters. In "Midnight in Europe" (2014) Furst again shows that he is a master at setting up the mood and creating the atmosphere of Europe in the years between the two world wars and leading up to WWII.

Finally Rebecca Cantrell, like Furst an American writer who has lived in Europe, began the story of her lead character Hannah Vogel in pre-war Europe in "A Trace of Smoke" (2009). It is the first in a series of novels and a good start, one that has been followed by three more.

Vogel is revealed to be a newspaper crime beat reporter living a hand-to-mouth existence in 1931 Berlin who unintentionally becomes involved with the affairs of a senior Nazi. The story embraces aspects of both the Nazi rise to power in Germany and the corresponding decline in the pre-1933
Berlin/Weimar lifestyles since depicted in books like Christopher Isherwood's "The Berlin Stories"and various movies and plays such as "Cabaret".

*****************************

email: Alastair.Rickard@sympatico.ca

blog: www.RickardsRead.com

previous columns and blog archive:
to access previous columns and this blog's archive, the links to which
are listed chronologically in the margin beside each column
as it appears on the RickardsRead website, go to
a recent column and use the links

to set a "Google alert" for RickardsRead columns
in order to receive notice automatically of new columns
as they are posted to RickardsRead.com, go to
www.Google.com/alert

******************************* 


/Weimar era

Sunday, August 23, 2015

(No.293) Part 2 of "Two Macdonalds & several other crime novelists"


Part 2 of "Two Macdonalds (Ross and John D) and
several other crime novelists' series"

by Alastair Rickard

In my previous column (No.292) I began some comments about new or republished novels I have enjoyed by a number of current writers as well as the accumulated works of novelists Ross Macdonald and John D. MacDonald.

This column continues those comments.

                                                               *********

Randy Wayne White is, like C.J. Box, an American writer I regard as a professional novelist. Like most novelists who earn their livings from writing so-called genre fiction they are unlikely to receive the critical literary applause their writing deserves.

Years ago White created a character named Doc Ford, a former CIA operative who now appears to spend his time as a marine biologist while involving himself with various often dangerous matters having nothing to do with biology, marine or otherwise.

Ford lives on Sanibel Island off Florida's gulf coast. In "Cuba Straits"(2015) the latest (the 22nd) in the Doc Ford series has an interesting plot premise. Doc becomes involved in an infiltration of Communist Cuba and a search for items and persons involving the Castro brothers and the beginning of the Cuban Revolution.

"The Man From Berlin" (2013) and "The Pale House"(2014) are the first two novels in a series by the English writer Luke McCallin. Both are set in Yugoslavia towards the end of World War II during the last stages of the German military effort there. The central and continuing character is an army intelligence officer Captain Gregor Reinhardt.

As a character Reinhardt reminds me of Philip Kerr's sometime Berlin detective and army officer Bernie Gunther. There are distinct parallels involving Reinhardt and Gunther. Not the least of the similarities is the fact that they are more sympathetic characters to readers because they neither embrace belief in Nazi ideology nor voluntary participation in its military-related crimes.

McCallin's first two Reinhardt novels are absorbing reading and while I look forward to reading future novels in the series they are not yet at the same standard as the ten volumes (thus far) in  Kerr's Gunther series (especially the initial three novels republished in 1993 as the "Berlin Noir" trilogy).

David Downing is another English writer of non-fiction (history, politics, biography) as well as fiction but whose career began decades ago. His fiction was for years of no particular note until he began what turned into a six novel series set in Germany -- mainly Berlin -- before, during and at the end of World War II. Each of the six in the series has as its title the name of a different Berlin station.

The first of the "Station" series in 2007 was "Zoo Station", the last in 2013 "Masaryk Station". The "Station" novels follow the life and espionage activities of Jack Russell, an Anglo-American journalist reporting from Berlin for American newspapers until the U.S. entered the war at the end of 1941 after which he continued his involvement in Germany but no longer as a reporter.

The "Station" series is well done. The novels are informed by a sound understanding of the history, locale and contemporary atmosphere of Hitler's Berlin, the Third Reich and life before, during and at war's end.

Downing's fiction has come a considerable distance from what he describes as "my first real novel" in 1987: the recently republished Second World War spy novel "The Red Eagles". While an interesting plot it was clearly the harbinger of better work to come.

I have recently read the first novel in what seems destined to be a series of what could be labelled as 'desert noir' detective/crime fiction: "Bad Country"(2014). It is actually what its writer, C.B. McKenzie, says is his tenth novel but the first to find a publisher.

It is set in remote southwest Arizona 'indian country' as well as Tucson.. It follows a former rodeo cowboy, a native American named Rodeo Grace Garnet. Retired from the rodeo circuit he is a private investigator of sorts who lives in the desert. He makes a living -- but just -- from piecework as a bounty hunter, warrant server and divorce snoop.

This novel involves Garnet in a couple of tough cases and several nasty situations. It is a dark but promising beginning for this character operating in a different setting, both geographical and cultural. A detective series with a difference.

TO BE CONTINUED
                                                                     ****
Correction to previous column (no.292):
In the final sentence of my comments on John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee series I inadvertently referred to it as the Lew Archer series (i.e., the series of novels written by Ross Macdonald, also reviewed in the same column).  

********************

email: Alastair.Rickard@sympatico.ca

blog: www.RickardsRead.com

previous columns & blog archive:
to access previous columns and this blog's archive. the links to which
are listed chronologically in the margin beside each column
as it appears on the RickardsRead website, go to
a recent column and use the links.

to set a "Google alert" for RickardsRead columns
in order to receive notice automatically of new columns
as they are posted to RickardsRead.com, go to
www.Google/com/alert

*************************  


    

Saturday, August 8, 2015

(No.292) "Two Macdonalds (Ross & John D.) & several other crime novelists"


"Two Macdonalds (Ross and John D.) and several other 

successful writers of crime novel series"


by Alastair Rickard

One of the pleasures for many readers of fiction is to discover and follow a character one finds interesting, a character who appears and reappears like bees in amber in a writer's work, novel after novel.

I follow as they appear the new novels in series written by a number of current writers as well as working my way through the accumulated works of novelists like Ross Macdonald and John D. MacDonald.

I have devoted this and succeeding columns to several novelists whose series I enjoy.

                                                                **********

Ross Macdonald (1915-83) was the principal pseudonym adopted by Kenneth Millar, an American raised in Canada -- mainly in Winnipeg and Kitchener -- who became a leading crime novelist in the U.S. He earned fame from the 1950s on as the creator of a private detective he called Lew Archer whose milieu was California/L.A. 'noir'.

Beginning in 1949 Macdonald/Millar wrote until 1976 a series of 18 Archer novels plus 3 short story collections featuring Archer. They brought to the genre in the United States a new realism combined with intricate mystery narratives.

The Library of America is a non-profit publisher dedicated to preserving (and using higher quality hard cover book editions to do so) the American literary heritage. Its aim is to keep in print "America's best and most significant writing".

It has just published a four novel selection in a single volume of Ross Macdonald's Archer novels: "Ross Macdonald: Four Novels of the 1950s" (2015). It is scheduled to publish in April 2016 a second selection "Ross Macdonald: Three Novels of the Early 1960s".

Ross Macdonald is sometimes confused with his contemporary: American crime novelist John D. MacDonald (1916-86). The latter MacDonald wrote 21 crime/detective novels from 1964 to 1985 featuring a Florida "salvage consultant" named Travis McGee.

While McGee eschewed calling himself a private detective, he was one in the hard-boiled fictional American tradition. The McGee novels are as entertaining reading as the Archer series. Indeed both the Archer and McGee novels easily match if not exceed the overrated 'detective fiction' of the now lionized American novelists identified with California 'noir' Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler.

John D. Macdonald's Travis McGee series novels are still available in one form or another including a selected 5 novel compilation: " John D. Macdonald: Five Complete Travis McGee Novels" (1985).

C.J. Box's "Stone Cold" (2014) is the 14th in a series in which the lead character, Joe Pickett, works as a Wyoming state game warden. However his career has gone well beyond his ostensible duties to involve a great deal of rather violent detective work often relating to special assignments from the state's governor. The most recent in the Pickett novels, "Stone Cold", is one of the best among those I have read thus far in this series.

Martin Walker, an English journalist who has spent much of his career in the United States, now divides his time between Washington and the Dordogne region in southwest France. Several years ago he, like many journalists do, decided to try his hand at fiction. Most such non-ficition writers do not become successful novelists but Walker has.

He created a character named Bruno Courreges, a former French soldier who saw active service in Bosnia and elsewhere, left the military and became the chief of police in St.Denis, a small town in the Dordogne region. He gets involved regularly in cases and activity with national implications going well beyond the duties of his official role.

The most recent in the Bruno series, the 6th and 7th, are "Resistance Man" (2013) and "The Children Return" (2014).

TO BE CONTINUED

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email: Alastair.Rickard@sympatico.ca

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