This collection of short stories was my first encounter with Macdonald, and I’m looking forward to digging into the novels. I don’t mean to damn with faint praise by saying Macdonald is absolutely first-rate second-rate Chandler, but that’s the most succinct observation I can make. Macdonald’s own voice does come through – if anything it’s a little more general, less specific than Chandler’s – but on the whole, the it’s the vibe of the hard-bitten PI observing a corrupt world and going a bit too far out of his way to make it better.
Though there’s an omnipresent post-war Los Angeles backdrop, the city and the broader Southern California milieu are much less of a character than in Chandler’s work. I’m almost reminded of Asimov in the subtle timelessness of the writing – there are very few cues to specific locality or technology.
My favorite part of this volume was the “Case Notes” – a collection of several quite polished beginnings of stories that MacDonald never fleshed out. Some of the best writing in the book, superb by any measure.
If you’re into this genre, Macdonald should be next on your list after Chandler and probably Hammett (or after Cain and Thompson if you enjoy digging into the grittier, detailed unpleasantness of desperate people). I’m not yet familiar with the lengthier works, but I have to think these short stories would be a representative and enjoyable introduction.