Audio Book Review: Find a Victim by Ross McDonald, Blackstone Audio Books.
My Mom is now volunteering at the New City Library. Sheâ€™s helping Senior Citizens fill out their income taxes. She doesnâ€™t know anything about income tax law, she just does triage on the people that come in and make sure that they qualify for the free service and that they brought the tax documents that they need. Mom got talked into this by her best friend BJ (not an appropriate name for a 76 year old woman.) BJ was Momâ€™s roommate back in Saint Lukeâ€™s nursing school in the late 1940s. BJ spent the last 20 years doing hard time for murder â€“ itâ€™s a long story. Now that sheâ€™s out, she and Mom hang out. You can tell that BJ was the girl that came into the dorm and talked Mom into going out and hitting the bars, even when there was a test the next morning.
While she was at the library, Mom hit the bargain bin and bought me a couple of books on tape. This is a review of one of the tapes, Find a Victim by Ross McDonald.
Ross McDonald is considered one of the masters of the Hard-Boiled Detective yarn. He is similar in many ways to Raymond Chandler, but the hard detective patter is a little more sophisticated with literary references and some good descriptive prose. Ross has his detective, Lew Archer, fall into murder and mayhem in a small California town. Archer investigates murderers, drug addicts, child molesters and an assortment of perverts in search of hijacked booze. There are an interesting cast of characters and never a dull moment. The tape is read by Tom Parker, who I have listened to before on other tapes. He is a good reader, especially for detective fiction. He has a quick clipped way of reading, but his voice is a little higher than the one I hear in my head when I read these stories. Blackstone Audio Books does a good job in the production, announcing the end of each side and clearly reading the tape number and side at the beginning. This sounds like a little thing, but I donâ€™t like it when Random House or one of the other big name publishers doesnâ€™t bother with this small detail that so improves the experience.
The writing is very good in the book, but some of Ross MacDonaldâ€™s style leaves me feeling a little uneasy. He tends to view women in a corpse light – as dead things. The women are always passive or stupid and they are motivated out of blind passion or insanity. Women are never reasonable or even very real in the books. Written in 1954, I suppose that the book is a reflection of the times. Detectives made love to women or slapped them around in these old books. It is unsettling, though, in modern times. One of the characters has raped his daughter, but he never did any time for it and it seems to be a minor point in the book, only used to explain why the daughter doesnâ€™t live with him any more.
There is one thing that I found a little silly. MacDonald describes a woman who is addicted to Marijuana. Her reaction to the drug is bizarre. It is obvious that MacDonald had no first hand knowledge of the use of reefer and its effects, even though he got the vocabulary correct.
If you like hard-boiled fiction, this is a very well done book. I enjoyed the plotting, although the discovery of the real killer was a little bit of a let-down for me. I expected more action at the end, possibly with a shoot out with the killer. The end was a little soft. It relies on MacDonaldâ€™s 1950s view of women to be believable. There is a good shoot-out near the end, though, just to satisfy those of us who need it.
Check out Ross MacDonald it you get a chance. The stories are easier to follow than Chandler’s and he is better stylist, although Chandler had the hard-boiled vocabulary down. Just remember that MacDonald is a product of his times.
I am currently listening to “The Withdrawing Room : A Sarah Kelling & Max Bittersohn Mystery” by Charlotte McLeod. This is what I would call an Old Lady mystery. There is no blood or sex, just a bunch of odd characters and a middle aged woman to solve the mystery. It reads almost like an Agatha Christie Miss Marple story and could be compared to a Murder, She Wrote episode. I think that my mother actually bought it for herself. It’s a fun listen, but I don’t think that I will bother reviewing it.
I ordered Heinlein’s Citizen of the Galaxy from Blackstone. They have an Amazon Marketplace store for their used tapes. They rent the tapes out and then sell the used tapes at a deep discount. I have no problem with pre-listened-to tapes so I bought it. I should receive it by the end of the week and I will revied it as soon as I finish it. Citizen of the Galaxy is one of those Heinlein books that starts off great and then gets finished up quickly. It is almost like two separate novels. I always skim the last half of the book. You can’t do that with a book on tape so I’ll be paying closer attention than I usually do and I’ll write a review of the whole book.