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.

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).  




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.

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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).





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 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, go to