The Line Up: The Chill by Ross MacDonald (1964)

The bride of newlywed Alex Kincaid has disappeared and he turns to Lew Archer for help. Who is Lew Archer you might ask? If you don’t know you need to find out. All I’m going to tell you is he’s a Philip Marlow/Sam Spade type working out of the suburbs and without a drinking problem.

Set after the war, this is noir without all the rough edges and more than enough twist, turns and messed up individuals to keep you occupied. Imitation is the best form of flattery and this is imitation with improvements. The missing person case turns into a murder investigation that branches out into four murder investigations and the wrongful murder conviction. Archer has a way of getting involved in trouble but handling problems with a determined resolve.

It is a novel about past mistakes and family. Not family in a good way but the way family really screws you up and how past mistakes can continue to mess with your life.

If you haven’t read Ross MacDonald, The Chill is a great place to start. MacDonald wrote nearly twenty Lew Archer novels. There are moments when Lew is lacking a little of that emotional intensity that you find in Marlow and Spade. What it does mean is the novel is all about the story and where you might lose out in the character you more than make up for in the writing and the plot. It is dizzying and yet all falls into place perfectly. At the end, the resolutions work but are anything but neat. With four murders and a wrongful conviction, neat is the last thing you’d want.


6 thoughts on “The Line Up: The Chill by Ross MacDonald (1964)

  1. Here’s a situation that arises continually in the Lew Archer novels: someone Archer is investigating is surprised to learn how much he knows about them. In Black Money Kitty Hendricks voices this surprise in virtually those very words –“How do you know so much about me?” Usually, though, the knowledge Archer has obtained when this question comes up turns out to be peripheral – that is, it doesn’t bear directly on the solution to the case but is just a part of the hopelessly tangled morass of action and information Archer is working his way through. In the novels that most critics and scholars seem to feel comprise the mature Macdonald style – The Galton Case through The Blue Hammer – the reader is constantly being thrown off the scent this way.


    1. Thank you for the detailed comment Elizabeth. Do you think this works for the character and narratives or is it just an annoyingly repetitive facet of Macdonald’s style? Throwing the reader off the scent seems appropriate and critics can be wrong, can’t they?


  2. In studying the Lew Archer novels of Ross Macdonald I’ve tried to identify certain characteristics, themes, motifs, images – call them what you like – that crop up frequently throughout the various books. I don’t claim that the following are particularly important or have any special significance or meaning; nor do I say this is a comprehensive list. They are simply some things I’ve noticed in more than one of the novels. Some of these appear in quite a few of the Archers. In time I hope to post the results of reading through each of the books individually while searching for these ‘repeaters’.


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