Ross Macdonald

Ross Macdonald is the main pseudonym that was used by the American-Canadian writer of crime fiction Kenneth Millar (/ˈmɪlər/; December 13, 1915 – July 11, 1983). He is best known for his series of hardboiled novels set in Southern California and featuring private detective Lew Archer.

Brought up in the province of Ontario, Canada, Macdonald eventually settled in the state of California, where he died in 1983.

Ross Macdonald
Ross macdonald
BornKenneth Millar
December 13, 1915
Los Gatos, California
DiedJuly 11, 1983 (aged 67)
Santa Barbara, California
Pen nameJohn Macdonald, John Ross Macdonald, Ross Macdonald
Alma materUniversity of Michigan
GenreCrime fiction
SpouseMargaret Millar


Millar was born in Los Gatos, California, and raised in his Canadian parents' native Kitchener, Ontario, where he started college. When his father abandoned his family unexpectedly, Macdonald lived with his mother and various relatives, moving several times by his 16th year. In Canada, he met and married Margaret Sturm in 1938. They had a daughter, Linda, who died in 1970.

Millar began his career writing stories for pulp magazines and used his real name for his first four novels. Of these he completed the last, The Dark Tunnel, in 1944. After serving at sea as a naval communications officer from 1944 to 1946, Millar returned to Michigan, where he obtained his Ph.D. degree in literature.

For his fifth novel, in 1949, he wrote under the name John Macdonald in order to avoid confusion with his wife, who was achieving her own success writing as Margaret Millar. He then changed his pen name briefly to John Ross Macdonald, before settling on Ross Macdonald in order to avoid being confused with fellow mystery writer John D. MacDonald, who was writing under his real name. Millar would use the pseudonym "Ross Macdonald" on all his fiction from the mid '50s forward.

In the early 1950s, he returned to California, settling for some thirty years in Santa Barbara, the area where most of his books were set. In these the city in which Lew Archer is based goes under the fictional name of Santa Teresa. In 1983 Macdonald died of Alzheimer's disease.


Macdonald first introduced the tough but humane private eye Lew Archer in the 1946 short story "Find the Woman" (credited then to "Ken Millar"). A full-length novel featuring him, The Moving Target, followed in 1949 and was the first in a series of eighteen. Macdonald mentions in the foreword to the Archer in Hollywood omnibus that his detective derives his name from Sam Spade's partner, Miles Archer, and from Lew(is) Wallace, author of Ben-Hur, though he was patterned on Philip Marlowe.

The novels were hailed by genre fans and literary critics alike.[1] The Lew Archer novels are recognized as some of the most significant American mystery books of the mid 20th century, bringing a literary sophistication to the genre. The critic John Leonard declared that Macdonald had surpassed the limits of crime fiction to become "a major American novelist".[2] He has also been called the primary heir to Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler as the master of American hardboiled mysteries.[3]

Macdonald's writing built on the pithy style of his predecessors by adding psychological depth and insights into the motivations of his characters.[4] Their plots of "baroque splendor" were complicated and often turned on Archer's unearthing family secrets of upwardly mobile clients, sometimes going back over several generations.[5] Lost or wayward sons and daughters were a theme common to many of the novels.[6] Critics have commented favorably on Macdonald's deft combination of the two sides of the mystery genre, the "whodunit" and the psychological thriller.[7] Even his regular readers seldom saw a Macdonald denouement coming.

Screenwriter William Goldman, who adapted Macdonald's stories to film, called his works "the finest series of detective novels ever written by an American".[1] Tom Nolan in his Ross Macdonald, A Biography,[8] wrote, "By any standard he was remarkable. His first books, patterned on Hammett and Chandler, were at once vivid chronicles of a postwar California and elaborate retellings of Greek and other classic myths. Gradually he swapped the hard-boiled trappings for more subjective themes: personal identity, the family secret, the family scapegoat, the childhood trauma; how men and women need and battle each other, how the buried past rises like a skeleton to confront the present. He brought the tragic drama of Freud and the psychology of Sophocles to detective stories, and his prose flashed with poetic imagery."

Over his career, Macdonald was presented with only two awards. In 1974, he received the Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America, and in 1982 he received "The Eye", the Lifetime Achievement Shamus Award from the Private Eye Writers of America.


Chet Gordon (as Kenneth Millar)

Lew Archer novels

  1. The Moving Target – 1949 (filmed with Paul Newman as Harper, 1966)
  2. The Drowning Pool – 1950 (also filmed with Paul Newman as The Drowning Pool, 1975)
  3. The Way Some People Die – 1951
  4. The Ivory Grin (aka Marked for Murder) – 1952
  5. Find a Victim – 1954
  6. The Barbarous Coast – 1956
  7. The Doomsters – 1958
  8. The Galton Case – 1959
  9. The Wycherly Woman – 1961
  10. The Zebra-Striped Hearse – 1962
  11. The Chill – 1964
  12. The Far Side of the Dollar – 1965 (1965 CWA Gold Dagger Award winner)
  13. Black Money – 1966
  14. The Instant Enemy – 1968
  15. The Goodbye Look – 1969 (filmed as Tayna 1992)
  16. The Underground Man – 1971 (filmed as a television series pilot in 1974)
  17. Sleeping Beauty – 1973
  18. The Blue Hammer – 1976
  19. The Archer Files, The Complete Short Stories of Lew Archer Private Investigator, Including Newly Discovered Case Notes, ed. Tom Nolan – Crippen & Landru, 2007. This contains the contents of The Name Is Archer, the additional stories in Lew Archer, Private Investigator, and the three stories in Strangers in Town. The story "Death by Water" is changed (with the estate's permission) to feature Lew Archer rather than Joe Rogers. The book also includes eleven "case notes" – beginnings of novels or short stories that Macdonald never completed. The story Guilt-Edged Blonde was adapted into the 2002 French film The Wolf Of The West Coast (Le loup de la côte ouest).[9]

Lew Archer short story collections

  • The Name is Archer (paperback original containing seven stories) – 1955
  • Lew Archer: Private Investigator (The Name is Archer + two additional stories) – 1977
  • Strangers in Town (Two of the three short stories include Lew Archer; one,"Death by Water," features Joe Rogers) – Crippen & Landru, 2001

Lew Archer omnibuses

British omnibuses

Allison & Busby published three Archer omnibus editions in the 1990s.

  • The Lew Archer Omnibus. Vol. 1. includes The Drowning Pool, The Chill and The Goodbye Look.
  • The Lew Archer Omnibus. Vol. 2. includes The Moving Target, The Barbarous Coast, and The Far Side of a Dollar.
  • The Lew Archer Omnibus. Vol. 3. includes The Ivory Grin, The Galton Case, and The Blue Hammer.

Other novels

Millar's first four novels, all non-series standalones, were all initially published using his real name. They have since been intermittently reissued, sometimes as by "Ross Macdonald".

Two later non-series novels were also published. One was credited to John Ross Macdonald, the other simply to Ross Macdonald.

writing as Kenneth Millar

writing as John Ross Macdonald

  • Meet Me at the Morgue (aka Experience With Evil) – 1953

writing as Ross Macdonald

  • The Ferguson Affair – 1960


  • On Crime Writing – 1973, Santa Barbara : Capra Press, Series title: Yes! Capra chapbook series ; no. 11, The Library of Congress bibliographic information includes this note: "Writing The Galton case."
  • Self-Portrait, Ceaselessly Into the Past – 1981, Santa Barbara : Capra Press, collection of book prefaces, magazine articles and interviews.

See also


  1. ^ a b Baker, Robert Allen and Michael T. Nietzel (1985). Private Eyes: One Hundred and One Knights : a Survey of American Detective Fiction, 1922–1984. Bowling Green KY: Popular Press. p. 53. ISBN 978-0879723293.
  2. ^ J. Kingston Pierce, "50 Years with Lew Archer: An Anniversary Tribute to Ross Macdonald and his Heroice Yet Passionate Private Eye", January Magazine.
  3. ^ Nickerson, Catherine Ross (2010). "The Detective Story", in A Companion to the American Short Story, edited by Alfred Bendixen & James Nagel. New York: John Wiley & Sons. p. 425. ISBN 978-1405115438.
  4. ^ Miller, Wilbur R. (2012). The Social History of Crime and Punishment in America: An Encyclopedia. Los Angeles: Sage. p. 1019. ISBN 978-1412988766.
  5. ^ Geoffrey O'Brien, Hardboiled America, Van Norstrand Reinhold, 1981, pp.125-8
  6. ^ Jones, Tobias (July 31, 2009). "A passion for mercy". The Guardian. Retrieved May 19, 2013.
  7. ^ Connolly, John and Declan Burke (2012). Books to Die For: The World's Greatest Mystery Writers on the World's Greatest Mystery Novels. London: Hodder & Stoughton. ISBN 978-1451696578.
  8. ^ Tom Nolan, Ross Macdonald, A Biography, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1999 ISBN 0-684-81217-7
  9. ^ Ronnie Scheib, The Wolf of the West Coast, Variety, 23 September, 2002


  • Bruccoli, Matthew J. Ross Macdonald. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1984. ISBN 0-15-179009-4 | ISBN 0-15-679082-3
  • Nolan, Tom. Ross Macdonald: A Biography. New York: Scribner, 1999. ISBN 0-684-81217-7
  • Nolan, Tom. "The Archer Files". Crippen & Landru 2007
  • Schopen, Bernard "Ross MacDonald"
  • Kreyling, Michael. "The Novels of Ross Macdonald" University of South Carolina Press, 2005. ISBN 1-57003-577-6

External links

Black Money

Black Money is a novel by US American mystery writer Ross Macdonald. Published in 1966, it is among the most powerful of all Ross Macdonald's novels and was his own personal choice as his best book.

Blue City (novel)

Blue City was a thriller written in 1947 by Ross Macdonald. The novel was originally released under his real name, Kenneth Millar, by Alfred A. Knopf, while a condensed version was serialized in the August and September 1950 issues of Esquire. In 1986 it was considerably adapted to film.

Eric Jespersen

Eric Albert Jespersen (born October 18, 1961, in Port Alberni, British Columbia) is a Canadian sailor.

He won a bronze medal with Ross MacDonald in the men's Star event at the 1992 Summer Olympics and finished 14th at the 1996 Summer Olympics in the same event.

James Ross MacDonald

James Ross Macdonald (born February 27, 1923), is a physicist, who was instrumental in building up the Central Research laboratories of Texas Instruments (TI).

Lew Archer

Lew Archer is a fictional character created by American-Canadian writer Ross Macdonald. Archer is a private detective working in Southern California. Between the late 1940s and the early 1970s, the character appeared in 18 novels and a handful of shorter works as well as several film and television adaptations. Macdonald's Archer novels have been praised for building on the foundations of hardboiled fiction by introducing more literary themes and psychological depth to the genre. Critic John Leonard declared that Macdonald had surpassed the limits of crime fiction to become "a major American novelist" while author Eudora Welty was a fan of the series and carried on a lengthy correspondence with Macdonald. The editors of Thrilling Detective wrote: "The greatest P.I. series ever written? Probably."Stephen White is the current rights holder of Lew Archer and the book series.

Santa Teresa (fictional city)

Santa Teresa has been used by several authors as the name of an invented city.

Sleeping Beauty (Macdonald novel)

Sleeping Beauty is a 1973 novel by Ross Macdonald.

The 1975

The 1975 are an English pop rock band from Manchester, consisting of lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist Matthew "Matty" Healy, lead guitarist Adam Hann, bassist Ross MacDonald, and drummer George Daniel. Their choice of name was inspired by a Jack Kerouac beat poetry book.The band's origins trace to their attendance at Wilmslow High School in Cheshire and playing together as teenagers in 2002. Gigs organised by a council worker led the band to formally sign with Dirty Hit and Polydor Records. The band opened for several major acts and released a series of extended plays (Facedown, Sex, Music for Cars, IV) throughout 2012 before releasing their self-titled debut album (2013), which included the popular singles "Sex", "Chocolate", and "Robbers", reaching number one in the United Kingdom.

Their second album, I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it (2016), reached number one in the US and UK. Following the touring cycle for the record, the band announced their third album under the working title of Music for Cars, before going on hiatus again throughout 2017.

Returning in 2018, the band announced that the album had evolved into their third campaign cycle, consisting of their third and fourth studio albums. The first, A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships (2018), was released to critical praise, and became their third number one album in the UK. The second, Notes on a Conditional Form (2019), is due for release in May.

The Doomsters

The Doomsters is a 1958 mystery novel by American writer Ross Macdonald, the seventh book in the Lew Archer series.

The Drowning Pool

The Drowning Pool is a 1950 mystery novel by American writer Ross Macdonald, his second book in the series revolving around the cases of private detective Lew Archer.

The Galton Case

The Galton Case is the eighth book in the Lew Archer Series by Ross Macdonald. It was published in 1959. Macdonald thought with this book he found his own voice as a writer.

The Moving Target

The Moving Target is a 1949 mystery novel by American writer Ross Macdonald, who at this point used the name "John Macdonald".

This is the first Ross Macdonald novel to feature the character of Lew Archer, who would define the author's career. Lew Archer is hired by the dispassionate wife of an eccentric oil tycoon who has gone missing. Archer must dig through a strange cast of Los Angeles characters, finding crime after crime before he can get to the job he was hired to do.

The novel became the basis for the 1966 Paul Newman film Harper, thanks in no small part to screenwriter William Goldman.Ross Macdonald (Kenneth Millar) originally titled this book The Snatch. When the book was published, he chose the pseudonym John Macdonald after his father, John Macdonald Millar. It is believed he didn't want to use his own name as his wife, Margaret Millar, was already an established writer. Due this pen-name's similarity with the name of the writer John D. MacDonald, Millar later wrote as John Ross Macdonald and finally as Ross Macdonald.

The Three Roads

The Three Roads is a 1948 mystery novel written by Kenneth Millar. This was Millar's fourth novel, and the final one published using his real name—he is generally better known by his later pseudonym Ross Macdonald.

"For now I am discovered vile, and of the vile. O ye three roads, and thou concealed dell, and Oaken copse, and narrow outlet of three ways, which drank my own blood..." - Sophocles, Oedipus Tyrannus

The Waifs

The Waifs (originally styled as The WAiFS) are an Australian folk rock band formed in 1992 by sisters Vikki Thorn (harmonica, guitar, vocals) and Donna Simpson (guitar, vocals) as well as Josh Cunningham (guitar, vocals). Their tour and recording band includes Ben Franz (bass) and David Ross Macdonald (drums).

The band's 2003 album Up All Night reached the top five of the Australian Albums Chart, achieving double platinum status and winning four ARIA Awards in October. Two further top five albums were issued, Sun Dirt Water in 2007 and Temptation in 2011. The Waifs have three top fifty singles, "London Still" (2002), "Bridal Train" (2004) and "Sun Dirt Water". The band supported Bob Dylan on his 2003 Australian tour and then his 2003 North American tour, including a gig at the Newport Folk Festival.

The Waifs founded the independent label Jarrah Records in July 2002, co-owned with fellow musician John Butler, and their common manager Phil Stevens, which handles their Australian releases.

The Zebra-Striped Hearse

The Zebra-Striped Hearse is a detective mystery written in 1962 by American author Ross Macdonald, the tenth book featuring his private eye, Lew Archer.

Trouble Follows Me

Trouble Follows Me is a spy thriller written in 1946 by Kenneth Millar. For this novel, as with his other early work, Millar used his real name—he is generally better known as Ross Macdonald.

W. Ross Macdonald School

The W. Ross Macdonald School was founded in March 1872 in Brantford, Ontario, Canada. Its first principal was Ezekiel Stone Wiggins.It provides instruction from kindergarten to secondary school graduation for blind and deafblind students.

W. Ross Macdonald is the only school in Ontario for blind and deafblind students and the only such school in Canada serving academic students. It draws students from across Ontario and other provinces and has residences to accommodate those that do not live in the local area. Placement at W. Ross Macdonald is a decision made by students, parents and their local school board, when it is decided that such an environment would be the best option at that time. In addition to their own students, the school provides services to other school board programs for students who are blind or deafblind.

Attendance at the school remains at slightly more than 200 students.

The school was originally named the Ontario Institution for the Education of the Blind when it opened in 1872, and later called the Ontario School for the Blind. It was given its current name in 1974 in honour of Brantford citizen William Ross Macdonald, who served as Lieutenant Governor of Ontario from 1968 to 1974.

Though students typically receive instruction in core curriculum subjects, the expanded core curriculum developed at the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired has not been officially implemented at the W. Ross Macdonald School. Although students may receive instruction related to some expanded core curriculum areas (e.g., orientation and mobility, life skills or career education) instruction is not guaranteed. Students are currently unable to receive academic credits for work related to the expanded core curriculum.

The school's motto is "The Impossible is only the Untried".

William Ross Macdonald

William Ross Macdonald, (December 25, 1891 – May 28, 1976), served as the 21st Lieutenant Governor of Ontario from 1968 to 1974, and as Speaker of the House of Commons of Canada from 1949 to 1953.

The works of Ross Macdonald
Lew Archer works
Writing as Kenneth Millar
Other novels

This page is based on a Wikipedia article written by authors (here).
Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license; additional terms may apply.
Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.