Ross MacDonald, “The Blue Hammer”

I’ve been reading Ross MacDonald’s The Blue Hammer in bits and pieces over the last couple of weeks. This is the ninth or tenth MacDonald novel I’ve read, and it’s been a pleasure to reenter his world. To me, he remains the best of the American detective writers, greater even than the much vaunted Chandler and Hammett, for his humanism, his resistance to histrionics and caricature, his melancholy, and above all, for his well-observed stagings rendered in beautiful, sharp, prose. As I move through this one, I’ve jotted down a couple favorites.

“He gave me a broad idiot smile. I gave him the other half-pint. It was an ugly transaction, and I was glad to leave him. He closed the front door behind me like a trusty shutting himself into his own prison. I locked the door.”

“A couple of dozen men and women stood around in party clothes with drinks. It looked like a scene recovered from the past, somehow less real than the oil paintings hanging from the wall”

“There were times when I almost wished I was a priest. I was growing weary of other people’s pain and wondered if a black suit and a white collar might serve as armor against it.”

“I thought that the grief you shared with women was most always partly desire.”

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