“The Imaginary Blonde” is actually a short story, though you can buy it through Amazon as a 99-cent e-book. Whether or not you think that’s a good pri...more“The Imaginary Blonde” is actually a short story, though you can buy it through Amazon as a 99-cent e-book. Whether or not you think that’s a good price for one story may depend on how much you like Ross Macdonald.
When the story was first published in the February, 1953 issue of Manhunt, Macdonald had less than a handful of novels under his belt. If you’re dying for a paper copy of “The Imaginary Blonde,” you can save a few bucks by finding it in the collection My Name Is Archer, released two years later, and pretty common in paperback. (The story appears there under the title “Gone Girl.”)
The action starts immediately, and it’s clearly hard-boiled territory (“I was tooling home from the Mexican border in a light blue convertible and a dark blue mood.”) It was a nice surprise a few pages in to discover that this was indeed a Lew Archer story, not to mention a solid one. After Archer loses the car he’s tailing, he ends up sleeping in a border town motel, only to be awakened by a screaming woman outside the room next door, her hand covered in blood from what turns out to be a pool of it in the bathroom. With no actual body, the woman playing dumb, and her father (the motel owner) doing some obvious covering up, Archer has his work cut for him. He follows the trail of lies from lingerie shops to be-bop clubs to ultimately find resolution—and the body.
Archer is cool as they come, whether flirting shamelessly with the lingerie store clerk, or giving as good as he gets with the cool-cat jazz piano player who only talks in rhyme. After a tedious string of the musician’s sing-song jabber is going nowhere, Archer fires back: “Where did she lam, Sam, or don’t you give a damn?”
The only weak spot in the story is the fact that clues are sometimes easily come by, which may be the author’s way of condensing the mystery into a short story. While thought to be knocked out, Archer overhears some thugs talking, and it's the sort of conversation where every detail is revealed, along with the names of all the speakers. Earlier, a woman’s slip found at the crime scene is monogrammed not only with an initial, but with a full first name, if you can believe any woman ever owned lingerie with “Fern” emblazoned on the chest. Sure is handy for cracking cases, though.
Archer’s at his best when he’s doing the actual work, rather than having the clues delivered in tidy wrapped packages. He does get to do some of it in “The Imaginary Blonde,” but if you’re craving more? It’s time to break out one of the novels.
An early (1904) Wodehouse effort --in fact, the first published work of his aside from the public school magazine tales. The book was meant for young...moreAn early (1904) Wodehouse effort --in fact, the first published work of his aside from the public school magazine tales. The book was meant for young people, but has plenty of dry wit and sarcastic humor. (Example: the Lord High Executioner is described as a "kind-looking old gentleman," wearing a robe "tastefully decorated with death's heads.") Some of the historical humor is reminiscent of (the much funnier) 1066 and All That. It's no Jeeves and Wooster, but it does beat the school stories. (less)