ROSS MACDONALD – The Chill. Lew Archer # 11. Alfred A. Knopf, hardcover, 1963. Paperback reprints include: Bantam F2913, 1965; Warner, July 1990; Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, 1996.

   Ross Macdonald is considered one of the finest writers of private eye fiction of all time, and rightly so. The Chill is both tightly plotted and smoothly laid out for the reader, who sees the story through one set of eyes, those of private eye Lew Archer only. One might wish that he would convey everything he thinks to the reader, but for better or worse, he does not.

   This leaves it up to the reader to interpret people and events at the same time Archer does, or decide to wait until the end, when, at least in The Chill, there is a seismic shift at work, one that once it has clicked into place, will make sudden sense out of what till then had been a huge and unmanageable set of connected coincidences. This is definitely not the case. Macdonald knew exactly what he was doing when he wrote this book, every inch of the way.

   Which begins with Archer being hired by a distraught young man to find his newlywed wife, who seems to have run out on him before their marriage has even been consummated. That’s the easy part. Before locating her, no more than a simple day’s work, Archer runs across several other people who had recently come in contact with her in one way or another, including several academics, one of whom briefly toys with hiring him herself; a man who may or may not be the girl’s father; plus a large group of other miscellaneous lovers, wives and mothers, some incidental, most not, all sharply described and delineated.

   One really does need a scorecard to read this densely written and populated book, as the story only escalates from there. Once found, the missing woman then comes very close to being booked for murder. Archer does not think she did it, and not wishing to give up on the case, he needs to find another client, and soon, which luckily he manages to do, and very quickly.

   The case takes him geographically from a small town on the California coast to Chicago and Reno and back to Pacific Point before it is done, and chronologically back 20 years or more, with several murders having occurred along the way, some of them “solved,” but perhaps not all.

   One of the themes of the book, to me, is one of Zeno’s ancient Grecian paradoxes, which as recounted by Aristotle, goes something like this:

    “In a race, the quickest runner can never overtake the slowest, since the pursuer must first reach the point whence the pursued started, so that the slower must always hold a lead.”

   Which in everyday language, I take to mean: “No matter how fast you go, you’ll never get there.” Sounds like pure noir to me.