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The Underground Man (Lew Archer #16)

3.96  ·  Rating Details ·  1,226 Ratings  ·  91 Reviews
As a mysterious fire rages throughthe hills above a privileged town inSouthern California, Archer tracks a missing child who may be the pawn in a marital struggle or the victim of a bizarre kidnapping. What he uncovers amid the ashes is murder—and a trail of motives as combustible as gasoline. The Underground Man is a detective novel of merciless suspense and tragic depth, ...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published November 26th 1996 by Vintage Crime/Black Lizard (first published January 1st 1971)
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Bill  Kerwin
Jun 12, 2016 Bill Kerwin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

Another fine Lew Archer novel--perhaps the finest. Once again, troubled young people haunted by the past are implicated in a murder, and solving that murder will involve bringing the past to light.

Although I don't think the resolution of the plot is quite as effective as some of the others (The Galton Case, The Chill, The Goodbye Look, for example) the imagery that structures the narrative is profound, resonant and organic. Toxic pollution is a powerful metaphor here (DDT and the birds, psyched
Jul 21, 2015 Evgeny rated it really liked it
Lew Archer became a witness of a quarrel of a couple on the brink of a divorce related to their son. His mother reluctantly let his father to take the little guy to visit her mother-in-law. Shortly after they departed there was an announcement about forest fires right where the husband with his son were headed.
Forest fires
Worried about her son, the wife asked Archer to check on his safely. This seemingly innocent request resulted in Archer uncovering a trail of seemingly unrelated dead people - from both t
Cathy DuPont
Apr 20, 2014 Cathy DuPont rated it really liked it
Recommended to Cathy by: Jay
"What the hell?" This kept going through my mind from the beginning to the end of this book.

Reading along merrily (well, perhaps merrily isn't the best word) and zap, I didn't see that one coming.

Then getting confused with the characters, who's who, and in the next sentence or two Macdonald drops a short line reminding the me, the reader, exactly who that guy is. Macdonald reads my mind. Well, maybe not but he certainly seems to write for the reader, me anyway.

I love hard-boiled because they'r
Mar 23, 2016 F.R. rated it really liked it
Most detective novels take place in rooms. They are about people talking in various room with clues being teased out, lies and dissembling revealed, alibis smashed, emotional breakdowns occurring, all leading up to the nervous and tense confrontation between pursued and pursuer. Okay sometimes these rooms are on the Orient Express, or they’re on an ocean liner. And sometimes a murder occurs outdoors so the investigators get to chat about what’s taking place in the open air, but mostly the ...more
Jan 11, 2014 Stephanie rated it really liked it
I love Ross MacDonald. This book had all of the standard MacDonald elements--a complicated web of familial and sexual relationships, extramarital affairs, multiple murders, horribly corrupt rich folk--both old money and nouveau riche--all magnified by the mentally disturbed adolescents who inherit the sins of their fathers and mothers. I know it sounds depressing but it's great fun. Fun like opening the paper to a new Blagojevich or Monica Lewinski type scandal every morning for a week or two. ...more
Sep 19, 2010 Ed rated it it was amazing
This is vintage Ross Macdonald: rich society, double crosses, disturbed youth, dirty secrets all set in the Southern California "ghetto" (his word, not mine). The enigmatic, faceless PI Lew Archer reveals in this book he was once married. But that's it. But Lew is a good guy to have around in a tight jam. Sometimes I felt this one read like the author's autobiography. Quick read. Lots of characters to keep track of in the fast moving plot. Sometimes on this re-read the similes get in the way of ...more
Krok Zero
Feb 15, 2009 Krok Zero rated it really liked it
Shelves: winter-08-to-09
You know that famous Faulkner quote about how the past isn't dead, in fact it isn't even past? Ross Macdonald took that idea to heart more than just about any other novelist. His detective novels are stunningly intricate webs of murder, deceit, and corruption in which all the above sins are passed on from generation to generation among cruel rich families. Call it tragedy-noir, or just call it brilliant and moving. Ross Macdonald is the man. This one is a good place to start if you're looking ...more
Harry Connolly
Oct 26, 2014 Harry Connolly rated it really liked it
Lew Archer is moving into the seventies, trying to keep up with changing times, and so are his characters.

After reading several crime/mystery novels, it was refreshing to read one that opened with real momentum, and that felt honestly earned. Archer is searching for a kidnapped boy in the midst of a California wildfire. The authorities have too much going on to offer much help, and Archer has to do the fictional PI's work of digging through every character's lives to work out the truth of the c
Nov 22, 2015 Bert rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: orgasmic
The Lew Archer novels are all about pace. They move slowly, gathering more and more dirt as the trail leads further and further back through the years and what happens is you get dragged along in all these knots of guilt and grief and regret, until you become a witness to these generations of failure. Sometimes the murders feel like lesser crimes than the cycle of damage that the parents pass on to the children.
This was brilliant, not so much for the complex, maybe convoluted unravelling of the
Feb 17, 2009 Brendan rated it really liked it
Shelves: mysteries
This book was a little slow-moving at first, but then picked up speed around the second half. MacDonald is a really methodical writer, so even though his plot is convoluted (in a fantastic way), he untangles each thread enough so that you're confused, but still curious. This book also serves as a great portrait of life in late-sixties Los Angeles, and offers a pretty unflinching portrait of "The Greatest Generation" and the Baby Boomers (basically, everyone's up to no good). I greatly enjoyed ...more
Oct 21, 2014 Jim rated it really liked it
Another compelling and extremely well-written entry in Ross Macdonald's Lew Archer series of detective novels. This one, in concert with Macdonald's ongoing theme, revolves around an old family secret that comes back to haunt those lucky enough to have survived the events of the secret. Macdonald is simply one of the best writers of this sort of fiction, a writer with poetry and heartbreak and melancholy in his soul who conveys those attributes without undue cynicism and with an unobtrusive but ...more
Sep 29, 2016 wally rated it liked it
Shelves: macdonald-ross
finished this one today, good story, not great, good, okay. the characters bled into each times it was not easy distinguishing one from another. yeah, sure, a closer reading avoids that problem...that, or a character list at the git-go. at times i thought...ummm, reads like a screenplay, not that i've read many screenplays, maybe none at all in fact. mucho dialogue, some action, sure. a few of the characters stand out, fritz, was that his name? see what i mean? kelsey. too, there was ...more
Perry Whitford
Oct 08, 2015 Perry Whitford rated it really liked it
Unusually, this was second book I had read with the title of The Underground Man (the first one, about an eccentric Victorian Duke, is very different from this one though!), and it was the first novel I ever read by Ross Macdonald.

I came to this book with the expectation that Macdonald and his man Lew Archer were the closet heirs to Raymond Chandler and his peerless creation Philip Marlow, so I was really looking forward to this book.

However, I had previously read a book by Robert B Parker (Pot
Oct 28, 2010 Justus rated it really liked it
I liked this a lot better than The Galton Case (TGC). Whereas TGC seemed to mindlessly ape the requirements of the genre (mobsters! sex with random hot chick! getting the shit kicked out of him!), The Underground Man felt like it was more willing to straightjacket of the genre. I liked that.

I like that there aren't a lot of fights -- one conk over the head is about it. No random hookups with women. A slowly developing attraction between the young wife that looks like it might lead somewhere (tho
Jun 05, 2009 Emily rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Emily by: Gary
Ross Macdonald never disappoints. What a seemingly effortless job he does of combining the mystery genre with the family saga, while giving us some of the best similes and metaphors ever written. I continue to agree with those critics who say he was the best of the three when it comes to Hammett-Chandler-Macdonald.
Mar 21, 2013 Margaret rated it really liked it
I found this one on my shelf. I hadn't realized I'd missed it during my initial "Lew Archer" phase.
It contains the typical broken family theme, but this time, our (anti)hero is older. He still gives the reader guns, girls and gore, but his moral ambiguity is more introspective. I think he is more sad than angry as he leaves his thirties.
Or maybe that's me.
Sep 28, 2008 Barb rated it it was amazing
I seem to like everything I read of Ross MacDonald's.
Feb 05, 2016 Bob rated it really liked it
Shelves: mystery
All of the Lew Archer mysteries by Ross Macdonald are very good, and all but two or three are excellent. This one is in the top seven or eight, which means it is one of the best mystery novels ever written, and beyond that, it is an excellent novel, period.

As always with Lew Archer, there is practically no violence, no gore, nothing lurid, no sensationalism. Instead it is well plotted, tight, and plausible. This one is quite complex, and probably not the first Lew Archer mystery to read if one
Lukasz Pruski
Nov 09, 2015 Lukasz Pruski rated it really liked it
"[...]Ross Macdonald, a mystery novelist who didn't so much transcend the genre as elevate it, showing again (like Hammett, Faulkner, Collins, Dickens, Greene, and many others since Poe) how the crime story can at any time become art." Tom Nolan, in Ross Macdonald: A Biography

Indeed, Ross Macdonald's prose can reach the level of high literary art. The first chapter of The Underground Man (1971) is magnificently written - pure, classic Macdonald: sparse, minimalistic, economical prose. On just si
Diego Paim
Feb 04, 2016 Diego Paim rated it really liked it
Tenho a impressão que este livro prometia mais do que realmente entregou, mas não deixou de ser mais um excelente crime-thriller do mestre Macdonald.

A trama envolvendo o sequestro de uma criança com a morte de seu pai e com um incêndio de pano de fundo prometia um certo suspense e agonia na busca em encontrá-lo, e o fato de ser uma criança adiciona elementos emocionais que eu senti falta na história. Não que seja algo que Macdonald não saiba fazer e sua escrita seja sem muita tensão mesmo, já qu
Dec 10, 2010 Unbridled rated it liked it
It has taken me this long, and I'm unsure how avidly I will pursue his other titles, but I'm happy I finally came across my first Ross Macdonald. This particular book is dated and stylish with an occasional lapse into inelegance - the ending is so conventionally standard that it comes to the point of cliche, but a reader must appreciate it for what it is and when it was written. A sampling of the 'hard-boiled' dialogue from an interrogated dame: "She was just a little old lady in a little old ...more
Apr 01, 2015 Thomas rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I haven't made my way through the entire Archer series yet, but this may be the most Lew Archer of the Archer books I've read so far. This was the book that garnered the Eudora Welty endorsement in the New York Times, the one that said MacDonald isn't just a writer of detective novels, but of literature (as pretentious and elitist as THAT sounds). Perhaps because of the hype, retrospective critics seem to have down-rated this book a bit in favor of The Galton Case and The Chill. However, I find ...more
Phillip Thurlby
Sep 05, 2014 Phillip Thurlby rated it it was ok
Shelves: hard-boiled
Not his best. Obviously "The Drowning Pool" is a masterpiece of crime and I really enjoyed "The Moving Target" but this one really let me down.

What I usually enjoy so much about Ross MacDonald's stuff is that slight freshness to his characters and scenes. They're not as tired as some of his cohorts' works giving us that little extra splash of colour to keep them in our minds.

Unfortunately this one was a little different:

The characters were flat and confusing. No single one really stood out (exce
Vince Panone
May 10, 2016 Vince Panone rated it liked it
As a teen in the late 70's, I spent my summers biking to the local library, and leaving with stacks of mystery novels. Started with the Perry Mason series, moved along to Agatha Christie, and the more mannered Brit style mysteries. Eventually I discovered Ross MacDonald, and remembered being enthralled with the complex crimes, filled with long buried family secrets, destined to be unearthed. The Underground Man is a perfect example of that type of story.

Re-reading this book nearly 40 years late
Carsten Thomsen
Oct 15, 2011 Carsten Thomsen rated it liked it
The Underground Man, a former civil servant who have isolated himself in his apartment - raging against everyone including himself, just wanting to be left alone - but can't resist going out to connect with people, yet despises himself for it. He is indeed a bitter and angry man - a despicable and pitiable creature. First half is a long talk, philosophical, debating with the reader, the other half is more narrative and it ends with the Underground Man befriending a prostitute who he develop some ...more
Aug 31, 2009 Gabriel rated it really liked it
Shelves: shadow-man
Eternal return and Gestalt psychology cloaked in "Psycho" and "The Bad Seed." In other words-- great fun, and interesting, too.

I find that I get more out of Macdonald's novels having read his biography (the Tom Nolan one is good, as is Macdonald/Millar's autobiographical collection, Self-Portrait). Close your Northrop Frye and Susan Sontag, lay them back on the bedside table for a minute and follow-- Macdonald's daughter turns up, time and time again, in his books, always as catalyst for the dis
The 16th book in the Lew Archer detective series by Ross Macdonald. In my opinion these books compile the greatest P.I series ever written, and should be required reading in the hardboiled/noir mystery genre.

In this story, Lew is trying to find a missing/kidnapped child. Along the way, he uncovers complex family history that includes murders, extra-marital affairs, and corruption. The mystery is in the present, and another one buried in the past. Adding to the sense of urgency is
Oct 21, 2015 Jon rated it liked it
In spite of enthusiastic reviews from some of my Goodreads friends, I couldn't really get into this classic mystery. I'm not sure why--maybe that for all of the nature metaphors--wildfires, possible mudslides, dismal rain, a yacht breaking up against the rocks--I never got a sense of placiness. I never knew where anything was in relation to anything else, where houses were in the canyon, where the murder scene was in relation to other described scenes. The characters seemed to act more as the ...more
Apr 10, 2010 Jake rated it liked it
Shelves: mystery
The Underground Man is a solid mystery from late in MacDonald's career. He wrote it during his "environmental" phase- when he set his mysteries against a backdrop of Californian natural disasters. In "Sleeping Beauty" that's an oil spill- here, it's an enormous fire in the Mountains above Santa Barbara (which he calls "Santa Teresa".) As usual, MacDonald sets Lew Archer on a path that involves two cases- the first one, set in the present, leads through twists and turns to crime set fifteen years ...more
Dec 27, 2014 Tony rated it really liked it
THE UNDERGROUND MAN. (1971). Ross Macdonald. ****.
I first read this mystery about thirty years ago. As I remember it, the plot seemed to flow a lot more fluently for me back then. This time through, I got the impression that Macdonald was flailing about from chapter to chapter. When the going got tough, he brought in a new character. The story starts our when Lew Archer is hired to find a young boy who had been taken by his father and his current girl friend from his mother. It could have been e
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Ross Macdonald is the pseudonym of the American-Canadian writer of crime fiction Kenneth Millar. He is best known for his series of hardboiled novels set in southern California and featuring private detective Lew Archer.

Millar was born in Los Gatos, California, and raised in his parents' native Kitchener, Ontario, Canada, where he started college. When his father abandoned his family unexpectedly,
More about Ross Macdonald...

Other Books in the Series

Lew Archer (1 - 10 of 20 books)
  • The Name Is Archer
  • The Moving Target
  • The Drowning Pool (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard)
  • The Way Some People Die
  • The Ivory Grin
  • Find a Victim
  • The Barbarous Coast
  • The Doomsters
  • The Galton Case
  • The Wycherly Woman

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