Or maybe sometimes life gives you hard choices and cheating is the only thing in your life you've got left.
Maybe you've just got to bite the bullet that's got your name on it in caps and pick a forgotten book of the week that isn't actually forgotten. Maybe what you do is you knock back another drink and try to forget all those people in your life who you know just have to remember the Ross Macdonald novel you've picked, or maybe you just try to convince yourself that everyone else will have forgotten they remember it too. Maybe--Oh, to hell with it, I have a review to write and it's 3 a.m.
My rationale here is that The Ferguson Affair (1960) is one of the rare Ross Macdonald books with a lead investigator who is not Lew Archer.
Between 1949 and 1976, Ross Macdonald published eighteen detective novels with Lew Archer and only two without him, the wonderfully alliterative Meet Me at the Morgue (1953) and the extremely blandly titled The Ferguson Affair (1960).
Though these latter two novels now have been reprinted, like all the Archers, in paperback by the laudable Black Lizard, they get much less attention than the Archer books. Just look at the sales on Amazon.
The Moving Target, the first Archer novel, is positioned at about 73,000, while The Ferguson Affair is at about 780,000 and Morgue at 1,168,000! Heck, the newly available Coachwhip edition of Todd Downing's The Cat Screams (fine book!) is at 668,000.
|cherchez la femme|
As a conduit for Ross Macdonald's words and ideas, yes, he is quite interesting, but then so is Bill Gunnarson, the defense attorney investigator in The Ferguson Affair.
Frankly, I could not tell the two men apart, really, except that Gunnarson is married, happily, to a wife about to give birth to their child when the novel begins.
Gunnarson gets involved in "the Ferguson affair" through a new client of his, a young nurse arrested for selling stolen jewelry. Through a former--she says--boyfriend the woman seems to be linked to a burglary ring, but is she really innocent?
From this simple enough beginning Gunnarson soon finds himself enmeshed, along with the reader, in a net of criminal circumstances of impressive intricacy.
I really have to hand it to Macdonald for so beautifully managing such a complicated plot. As things develop there are really two mysteries and you'll be clever indeed if you manage to completely solve even one of them before the author reveals all.
|Black Lizard's brilliant Mad Men cover|
for the new paperback edition
The writing is up to the Ross Macdonald standard, which means many passages that linger in the memory:
"He was talking like a man in a dream, a rosy sentimental dream of the sort that burns like celluloid and leaves angry ashes in the eyes."
Angry ashes in the eyes. Beautiful stuff there.
The Ferguson Affair is one of the best detective novels I have read this year, much better, I think, than the other Ross Macdonald I read in 2012, The Barbarous Coast. It makes me happy I still have left to read about half Macdonald's novels. Don't let the dull title put you off, The Ferguson Affair is a good one. Now, where's that bottle....