Cover image for Ross Macdonald : a biography
Ross Macdonald : a biography
Nolan, Tom.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York, NY : Scribner, [1999]

Physical Description:
496 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Personal Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS3525.I486 Z79 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
PS3525.I486 Z79 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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This biography illuminates the public life and the hidden personal dramas behind the imaginative work of one of the greatest writers of detective fiction, Ross MacDonald. The author draws on 40 years worth of correspondence and hundreds of interviews to develop this portrait.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Fans of Ross MacDonald will probably devour this new biography. Although fairly by-the-numbers, it is well researched and very detailed. Nolan seems more interested in the real man, author and scholar Kenneth Millar, than in his crime-writing alter ego. Nolan describes at some length the impact of the death of the novelist's daughter (this seems to be one of the few times his real life appeared in his novels), but readers may very well be more interested in the smaller topics, such as the evolution of the writer's pen name or the fact that Millar wrote private-eye fiction to avoid being left in the literary dust by his wife, whose success, at least at the beginning, was far greater than his own. The book has flaws--chief among them an almost complete lack of excerpts from the Lew Archer novels, rendering the book somewhat inaccessible for readers unfamiliar with the series--but, overall, it's a useful and revealing look at one of the most popular writers of mystery fiction. --David Pitt

Publisher's Weekly Review

All aficionados of the mystery genre know the work of Ross Macdonald (the pseudonym of Kenneth Millar), whom Nolan calls the "philosopher king of detective novelists," the author of 18 Lew Archer novels and heir to Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. Now, this first full biography reveals, deeply and affectionately, the man behind the fiction. Millar started writing thrillers for the money but wound up irrevocably changing the detective novel, making it both more socially conscious and psychologically probing and bringing mysteries onto the bestseller list along the way. Nolan's elegant, moving account neither sensationalizes nor glosses over the unpleasant events of Millar's life: his sexual experiences at a very young age; his daughter's brief, troubled life; his heartbreaking decline and death from Alzheimer's disease. As a youth, Millar used books to escape his hardscrabble Canadian youth and his emotionally disturbed mother (who almost abandoned him to an orphanage). Some of his early favorites were Dickens's Oliver Twist and the novels of Dashiell Hammett, whom he felt "told the truth about how the world worked." As an adult, perhaps because he had looked for mentors to replace his own absent father, Millar was "surrogate father to probably hundreds of people." Many, like singer-songwriter Warren Zevon (who struggled with liquor and drugs) worshipped him. Zevon tells of the day he "went to the door, and there was Lew Archer, come to save my life." Millar's relationship with his wife of 46 years, Margaret Millar (herself a bestselling mystery writer) was more complex: they were at once competitive and supportive of each other's work. Perhaps the best description of this biography‘with its loves and betrayals, professional successes and personal tragedies‘is that it reads like a Ross Macdonald novel, which is high praise, indeed. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

Any assessment of 20th-century detective fiction should heed the fact that Kenneth Millar (1915-83)--under the pseudonym Ross Macdonald--published more than twice as many novels as Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler combined. Besides discussing the artistry that puts Macdonald on a par with his two more highly esteemed predecessors, Nolan recounts his subject's destitute youth in Ontario, Canada; the scholarly brilliance that culminated in a University of Michigan PhD; his long marriage to fellow crime novelist Margaret Millar; and, finally, the disturbed behavior and early death of their daughter Linda at about the same time Macdonald was winning acclaim as an important writer. Nolan has all of the biographer's gifts in hand, and he directs them to a North American genius whose life reads like one of his better novels. And that's saying a lot. More a good read than a contribution to scholarship, this volume will be at home in undergraduate and general collections supporting popular and detective fiction. P. Wolfe; University of Missouri--St. Louis