The Ivory Grin

Published By: Vintage

Book Category: Fiction, Mystery & Detective

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Reviewed by Laura Langer

Ross Macdonald’s Lew Archer is one of the most famous characters in all of detective fiction, and The Ivory Grin quickly shows the reader why. Archer is hired by the archetypal mystery client who won’t tell him anything about herself, to find a young woman she won’t tell him much about either. Archer knows from the first moments that he is being conned, but he’s both a little short on cash and a romantic at heart, and he just can’t resist the challenge that goes with the $100.

If you’re afraid that a novel written and first published in 1952 will seem dated, you’ll be both right and completely wrong. Of course, the clothes, cars, telephones, and even some of the geography no longer apply, but the motives and deception, the danger and the twists and turns of a first-rate detective novel are timeless. Macdonald carries it all off with a flair and a high sense of style that have kept his novels in print and his readers wishing he could have lived and written forever. When he died in 1983, Macdonald – a pseudonym for Kenneth Millar – left behind what critic William Goldman called “the finest series of detective novels ever written by an American author.”

Archer has a dry wit and no overly developed sense of his own importance. His observations of his clients, his surroundings, and the events he becomes part of are smart and wise. In this novel, Archer starts out in his hard-boiled detective office, but spends little time there as he travels between Los Angeles and one of those hot and dusty inland California towns where his clients and the people they’re seeking always seem to end up. He runs up against desperate people, motivated by greed and unloosed from whatever moral compass they may have started with long ago in some other existence. He struggles at each point to see who might be on the right side of things, and in almost every case he is disappointed. In The Ivory Grin, there are no heroes, except perhaps Lew Archer himself, and he lays no claim to that title.

Armchair Interviews says, “If you’re looking for a detective, a story, and a writer that won’t disappoint you, pick up Ross Macdonald’s The Ivory Grin — and then prepare to rush out for more.”

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