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Kenneth Millar

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Title: Kenneth Millar  
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Kenneth Millar

This article is about the author. For the Canadian sailor, see Ross MacDonald.

Not to be confused with John D. MacDonald

Ross Macdonald
Born Kenneth Millar
(1915-12-13)December 13, 1915
Los Gatos, California
Died July 11, 1983(1983-07-11) (aged 67)
Santa Barbara, California
Pen name John Macdonald, John Ross Macdonald, Ross Macdonald
Occupation Novelist
Nationality American-Canadian
Alma mater University of Michigan
Genres Crime fiction
Spouse(s) Margaret Millar

Ross Macdonald is the pseudonym of the American-Canadian writer of crime fiction Kenneth Millar (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 Ontario, he eventually settled in California, where he died in 1983.


Millar was born in Los Gatos, California, and raised in his parents' native Kitchener, Ontario, Canada, where he started college. When his father abandoned his family unexpectedly, Macdonald lived with his mother and various relatives, moving several times by his sixteenth year.

In Canada, he met and married Margaret Sturm in 1938. They had a daughter, Linda, who died in 1970. He began his career writing stories for pulp magazines. Millar attended the University of Michigan, where he earned a Phi Beta Kappa key and a Ph.D. in literature. While doing graduate study, he completed his first novel, The Dark Tunnel, in 1944. At this time, 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 briefly to John Ross Macdonald before settling on Ross Macdonald, in order to avoid being confused with fellow mystery writer John D. MacDonald, who wrote under his real name. 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 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 is referred to 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". A full-length novel, The Moving Target, followed in 1949. This novel (the first in a series of eighteen) would become the basis for the 1966 Paul Newman film Harper.[1] 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.

Macdonald has been called the primary heir to Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler as the master of American hardboiled mysteries.[2] His writing built on the pithy style of his predecessors by adding psychological depth and insights into the motivations of his characters.[3] Author Tom Rizzo has pointed out that Macdonald's plots were complicated, and often turned on Archer's unearthing family secrets of his clients and of the criminals who victimized them.[4] Lost or wayward sons and daughters were a theme common to many of the novels.[5] Critics have commented favorably on Macdonald's deft combination of the two sides of the mystery genre, the "whodunit" and the psychological thriller.[6] Even his regular readers seldom saw a Macdonald denouement coming.

Inspired by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Macdonald's writing was hailed by genre fans and literary critics alike.[7] Eudora Welty, a longtime friend and possible lover,[8] was a loyal fan of his work.[9] Screenwriter William Goldman, who adapted his stories to film, called his works "the finest series of detective novels ever written by an American".[7] Tom Nolan in his Ross Macdonald, A Biography,[10] 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."


Lew Archer novels

  • The Moving Target - 1949 (filmed with Paul Newman as Harper, 1966)
  • The Drowning Pool - 1950 (also filmed with Paul Newman as "Lew Harper", 1975)
  • The Way Some People Die - 1951
  • The Ivory Grin (aka Marked for Murder) - 1952
  • Find a Victim - 1954
  • The Barbarous Coast - 1956
  • The Doomsters - 1958
  • The Galton Case - 1959
  • The Wycherly Woman - 1961
  • The Zebra-Striped Hearse - 1962
  • The Chill - 1964
  • The Far Side of the Dollar - 1965
  • Black Money - 1966
  • The Instant Enemy - 1968
  • The Goodbye Look - 1969
  • The Underground Man - 1971 (filmed as a television series pilot in 1974)
  • Sleeping Beauty - 1973
  • The Blue Hammer - 1976

Lew Archer short stories

  • 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) - 2001
  • The Archer Files, The Complete Short Stories of Lew Archer Private Investigator, Including Newly Discovered Case Notes, ed. Tom Nolan - 2007. (Contains the contents of The Name Is Archer, the additional stories in Lew Archer, Private Investigator, and the three stories in Strangers in Town; “Death by Water” has been changed (with the estate’s permission) to feature Lew Archer rather than Joe Rogers. The book also includes 11 “case notes” – beginnings of novels or short stories that Macdonald never completed.)

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

writing as John Macdonald

writing as Ross Macdonald

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



External links

  • Marling, William. Hard-Boiled Fiction. Case Western Reserve University
  • The Ross Macdonald Files
  • "50 Years with Lew Archer: An Anniversary Tribute to Ross Macdonald and His Heroic Yet Compassionate Private Eye," by J. Kingston Pierce, January Magazine, April 1999.
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