Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Down those mean streets


Got a yen for a gritty, classic mystery? Try the triple-barreled collection Archer, P.I. by Ross MacDonald: Three novels from three successive decades = hardboiled gumshoe bliss. Here's how Marked for Murder (originally published as The Ivory Grin) begins:
I found her waiting at the door of my office. She was a stocky woman of less than medium height, wearing a blue slack suit over a blue turtleneck sweater, and a blue mink stole that failed to soften her outlines. Her face was squarish and deeply tanned, its boyish quality confirmed by dark hair cut short at the nape. She wasn't the type you'd expect to be up and about at eight thirty in the morning, unless she'd been up all night.
As I unlocked the door she stood back and looked up at me with the air of an early bird surveying an outsize worm. I said: “Good morning.”
“Mr. Archer?”
Without waiting for an answer, she offered me a stubby brown hand. Her grip, armed with rings, was as hard as a man's. Releasing her hand, she placed it behind my elbow, ushered me into my own office, and closed the door behind her.
“I'm very glad to see you, Mr. Archer.”
She had begun to irritate me already. “Why?”
“Why what?”
“Why are you glad to see me?”
“Because. Let's sit down and be comfortable so we can talk.” Without charm, her petite willfulness was disquieting. “About anything in particular?”
She seated herself in an armchair by the door and looked around the waiting-room. It was neither large nor expensively furnished, and she seemed to be registering those circumstances. Her only comment was to click her ringed fists together in front of her. There were three rings on each hand. They had good-sized diamonds in them, which looked real.
“I have a job for you,” she said to the sagging green imitation leather davenport against the opposite wall.

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