The Far Side of the Dollar by Ross Macdonald
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
"People are trying so hard to live through their children. And the children keep trying so hard to live up to their parents, or live them down. Everybody's living through or for or against somebody else. It doesn't make too much sense, and it isn't working too well."
Having completed the "Nicolas Freeling project" (re-reading and reviewing all his 41 books) a few months ago, I am now working on Ross Macdonald (Kenneth Millar in private life), a "Grand Master of Mystery Writers of America" and, to me, an author much more important than Raymond Chandler. I read all Macdonald's books between 1960s and 1990s, and The Far Side of The Dollar, published in 1964, is the sixth re-read in my project. Well, it could be one of the better books by Ross Macdonald if not for the awkwardly labored ending.
Lew Archer arrives at a school for "delinquent and disturbed" minors to help the principal find an escapee, seventeen-year-old Tom Hillman, who sneaked out over the fence in the middle of the night. Tom's rich parents put him in the school trying to "straighten the boy up" after he had taken a neighbor's car and totaled it. Eventually, the plot gets immensely complicated, involving many characters and spanning the years from 1944 to the early 1960s, yet a synopsis is hardly needed. This is a quintessential Macdonald plot, where sins of fathers and mothers cast deep shadows on the lives of their children, shadows that hurt and kill. Family secrets and lies, ugly and painful, are uncovered to wreak havoc with people's lives.
There are many things that I like about the novel. The quote shown in the epigraph offers a sharp diagnosis of a human tendency that causes many a ruined lives. The romantic thread, between Lew Archer and Susanna Drew, is touching, realistic, and well written and - as a bonus - the reader gets a rare glimpse into Archer's past. The Hotel Barcelona motif and Archer's trip to Pocatello, Idaho, are the highlights of the novel. And while the secrets from the past begin to get revealed rather early, the mystery of "what happened on Sunday morning" remains almost until the end of the novel.
Until the last twenty or so pages this reads as an at least three-star book, but then the author offers an overlong, theatrical, artificial ending, which ruins the novel for me.
Two and a half stars.
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