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The Ivory Grin

(Lew Archer #4)

3.98  ·  Rating details ·  1,937 ratings  ·  128 reviews
A hard-faced woman clad in a blue mink stole and dripping with diamonds hires Lew Archer to track down her former maid, who she claims has stolen her jewelry. Archer can tell he's being fed a line, but curiosity gets the better of him and he accepts the case. He tracks the wayward maid to a ramshackle motel in a seedy, run-down small town, but finds her dead in her tiny ro ...more
Paperback, 256 pages
Published July 10th 2007 by Vintage Crime/Black Lizard (first published 1952)
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Average rating 3.98  · 
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 ·  1,937 ratings  ·  128 reviews

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Bill Kerwin
May 20, 2007 rated it really liked it

This, the fourth novel in the Lew Archer series, is very good but not exceptional (at least not according to the standards of this exceptional series). It does, however, have all the ingredients of a good mystery, and is graced with Macdonald's strengths such as his vivid cameos (the old invalid black woman whose hobbies are listening to the radio and her neighbors' business; a middle-aged milliner relaxing with a glass of wine and her cat; a decent small town sheriff distrustful of big city det
May 14, 2015 rated it really liked it
A wealthy-looking woman
A wealthy woman
came to hire Lew Archer to find her missing maid who supposedly stole some of her jewelry.
A maid
She sounded fishy for everybody with intellect higher than that of a six-year-old child, so Archer had his reservations about taking the assignment, but it sounded simple and harmless enough - he was to just tail the maid
A tail
and report on the people she saw to his client - so he accepted. As a special bonus for accepting the questionable assignment he gets to witness and participate in
Apr 13, 2011 rated it really liked it
This is the first time Archer went all sociologically profound on our genre-loving asses, and there's pros and cons. The good news is that Macdonald's racially tinged plot doesn't browbeat us with the politics, unlike, say, every episode of COLD CASE to ever feature an African-American. On the downside, it's pretty clear that Macdonald's knowledge of the Af-Am experience fell somewhere between Huggy Bear of Starsky & Hutch and Rog & Rerun on What's Happening!!!, with a little Esther Rolle of Goo ...more
Dec 30, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: black-as-night
Perhaps high expectations of Ross MacDonald's stuff is responsible for this book not rocking my world. I enjoyed it but there was something lacking that would've made me love it. So far I can't really put my finger on what it was.

Lew Archer is a great protagonist for the genre; a mean, self serving PI with a penchant for hard boiled dialogue.

Ross MacDonald's prose is filled with fantastic observations of both people and places.

The plot is wonderfully convoluted, not too confusing but not too str
James  Love
Lewis Archer is hired to track a nurse passing for white and discovers her body in a run down motel.

Macdonald attacks the racism and police brutality of 1950's California with dark humor and dry wit.
COUNTDOWN: Mid-20th Century North American Crime
BOOK 74 (of 250)
"He [Alex] seemed to be seeing himself for the first time as he was: a black boy tangled in white law, so vulnerable he hardly dared move a muscle." This line comes early in this novel, and what a premise! But the author doesn't deliver on that premise. Perhaps Ross Macdonald would have liked to, but it's 1952 and we're a long way from the Civil Rights Act: most ideas would have fallen on deaf ears. So Macdonald delivers his tradema
Cathy DuPont
Oct 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
It didn't take me long to recall that I had read this book but heh, it's Ross Macdonald. That's THE Ross Macdonald one of the icons of the hard-boiled/pulp world. One of the writers that today's most popular authors say was an influence in their decision and desire to write mysteries/thrillers/detective books.

Lew Archer is the name of this P.I. who uses his head to solve complicated mysteries of "whodunit."

I've copied this from Wiki, which read my mind except the naming of Lew. Now that mystery
Aug 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett
Recommended to Still by: I'm reading the entire series based on the recommendations of Christopher (Donut)
The best entry I've read so far in Ross Macdonald's "Lew Archer" series.

Archer is hired to find a missing African-American woman by an odd woman with a mannish appearance and the manners of a brute. She claims the "colored girl" is a former employee and that she stole a few pieces of jewelry -not valuable items, but they have sentimental value to this potential client.
Archer reluctantly takes the case.

After a few chapters, Archer picks up a second missing persons case. He's hired to find a miss
Debbi Mack
Nov 29, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Ross Macdonald was nothing if not a gifted stylist when it came to writing prose. THE IVORY GRIN starts off with a tension-filled meeting between the protagonist, private eye Lew Archer, and an unpleasant (in attitude and looks), but well-dressed, woman who wants to hire him.

You know the kind of person Archer's dealing with when he says that she "looked up at me with the air of an early bird surveying an outsize worm," then goes on to state that after giving him a handshake "as hard as a man's .
Oct 06, 2012 rated it really liked it
Unlike the recent Thompson book The Grifters (set in the same time period and locations) which I found a bit too Dostoevsky-like, Ross MacDonald delivers well crafted, excellently plotted novels that leave one little to doubt as to the skill of this author. Many a writer of mystery/crime novels have MacDonald on their favorites reading list (I researched this, and in fact came to MacDonald because of this).

Unlike Burke who brings a certain sense of literature to his Robicheaux novels, MacDonald'
Feb 11, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A morally repugnant client hires Archer to find her runaway black maid. Her motives for finding the maid are plain lies as believable as elephants living in chicken coops. Archer's professional experience tells him that his life will be full of bad work for bad money. This one at least offers something novel, the work is still bad but the money is good. So he takes it but both readers and Archer knows it won't stop at a skip and trace. The plot with blackmail and murder is as serpentine as any m ...more
Feb 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
'The best entry in the series I've read so far,' says reviewer Still. Agree. A perfect whodunit. (On Youtube as an audiobook - kudos to the reader.)
Srinivas Veeraraghavan
Apr 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
I had been waiting to get my hands on the great man's books for months (nearly a year) and the wait had been "excruciatingly beautiful" if I could describe it thus.

Had read only 3 of his novels before and loved 'em so my appetite was fully whetted by the time I grabbed 4 of his rare Omnibus editions.

Started with "The Ivory Grin" and I experienced "one of those days" where the rest of the things and the people around you seem utterly insignificant. Yes, I was in "the Zone" as the more articulate
Jul 09, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: crime-mystery
(The five-stars here, of course, is relative to the genre..., not to Proust)

MacDonald's mastery of his craft is evident on nearly every page here - both in the writing, and in the construction and characterization and believablity. Everything I find lacking in science fiction, I find present in crime fiction... including a certain moral tenderness.

In the Ivory Grin, RM also deals with the issue of race - circa 1952 -- and though he writes as a white man, and pretends nothing else, he has an eye
Jan 06, 2019 rated it it was ok
So I guess Lew Archer is 2-2 with me. While I love the time capsule atmosphere of post war California in all the books, something is missing in these last two: pulp. All the elements are in place for a really fun hard case crime story but this one nearly crumples under its own oppressive vibe. Bella City oozes atmosphere and I could downright smell it but that doesn’t mean I wanted to hang out there. The revelation of what the title means was surprisingly effective but was too little too late. I ...more
Jun 10, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
When I began reading Ross Macdonald's Lew Archer novels last year, I built my acquisitions around the three-volume collection published by the Library of America. These bring together many of the Archer novels that Macdonald published over the span of a quarter century, encapsulating nicely the corpus of his work. The collection is far from comprehensive, though, which led me to search out copies of the novels missing from them.

The Ivory Grin was my latest find. It begins when Archer is approach
Jun 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
Maybe three and a half stars. As several Goodreads reviewers say, it's not the best of the Lew Archer series. But it does have a lot of the characteristics--beautifully observed minor characters, sketched with a minimum of fuss, a real placiness about southern CA around 1950. The plot is extremely convoluted, and I often didn't know what Archer was thinking, but that's because Macdonald, unlike a lot of more modern mystery writers, wasn't spoon-feeding me. This is a novel you have to work at, no ...more
Jan 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
I got so much deja vu reading this, because I read Strangers in Town first (a short story with a similar plot) - but long enough ago that I forgot many of the details. there are many characters and many stories. the story is quite grim and tragic, with so many characters who have lived their lives wrong and don't know how to live with the regret. the title refers to a set piece that's particularly disturbing...
Jan 05, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Archer is asked to look for a missing woman. He is immediately suspicious of his employer and things soon take a turn for the worse. The Ivory Grin has a great twist at the end. I keep saying this but Macdonald is a must read for any fan of crime fiction.
Oct 09, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very good early Archer, with strong, nuanced characters, and a surprisingly even-handed view of race issues—it’s disturbing how relevant the concerns of the black characters are, 65 years later.
Aug 21, 2019 rated it liked it
The surprises don't stop!
Oct 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Any Ross is great, this being no exception.
Larry Piper
Mar 01, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well, after all the sweetness and light of Heidi, I figured I needed to return to the dark side, so to speak. So, more noir detective fiction for me.

So, a mysterious, rich woman, just "Una" (later we learn it's Durano, or sometimes, Larkin) comes to Archer to ask him to find her maid, Lucy Champion. She says Ms. Champion (who could pass for white if she so chose) stole something from her. During the looking around, Archer comes across another P.I., Max Heiss (aka Julian Desmond) who is also loo
Apr 20, 2017 rated it liked it
I'm on a mission to read the Ross Macdonald Lew Archer series in publication order. The Ivory Grin (1952) is number four. (I got this bug after buying It’s All One Case: The Illustrated Ross Macdonald Archives, a visual feast for fans) In the great Books to Die For Irish mystery author John Connelly notes that once Macdonald became successful, that is when he wasn't writing solely for money, he managed to shed the shadow of Raymond Chandler. It's certainly true that many of the first books see ...more
Apr 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
Another strong entry in the "Lew Archer" series from Ross Macdonald. This one dealt with some racial issues and was written in the early fifties so I was worried I was in store for some good ole' fashioned awkwardness but for the most part Macdonald did a good job of not being too preachy but unfortunately his knowledge and ideas about African American's is dicey at best.

The book rallies, however, with some great writing, characterization and a whiz-bang plot that keeps you engaged. However, for
Jim Thomas
Apr 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2015
Struggled to build some interest in an Adrian McKinty novel, got bogged down. That was probably to be expected since I'd just read Chandler and virtually anything is a step down from Chandler so I grabbed the author, the only one I think, who is in the same class as Hammett and Chandler, Ross Macdonald, and read it in less than 48 hrs. Not his best. The Chill by Macdonald is in a class of it's own and Black Money, Macdonald's own favorite is considered his F. Scott Fitzgerald inspired masterwork ...more
May 17, 2013 rated it really liked it
Continuing to read the Lew Archer novels in order. Ross Macdonald is a master of hardboiled detective fiction, perfecting what Hammett and Chandler started--but it took him a while to warm up. After three promising but flawed offerings, he hits his stride in this fourth novel.

Archer is hired to track down a thieving maid. He doesn't trust his client--a rich but vulgar woman--but he takes the job anyway. Soon, the maid turns up dead, and Archer is scrambling to find out what happened and make sur
I have to admit, this book disappointed me. Pretty much nothing happened at all. It was kind of obvious who was involved (view spoiler) and what the situation was (view spoiler) There were no moments of: Oh crap, I did not see that coming! or: OMGZ! More gangsters! (I can't help it, I love gangsters. They're just all around amusing.) Sure, there's a good depiction of racism, blah blah blah...oh sorry, completely lost interest there. ...more
Paul Wilson
Feb 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Lew Archer is probably the best of the old school PI detective series, topping Hammett's Sam Spade and Chandler's Philip Marlowe. Not a popular opinion, but I think MacDonald takes their obvious influences and makes more interesting plots and characters, especially those involving familial betrayals and conspiracies. Plus the mysteries tend to be less labyrinthine and easier to follow (read "The Big Sleep" 10 times, and you still don't know what the hell's going on).

This is only my third or so r
Clay Kallam
Nov 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: mysteries
This is really a 3.5, as Ross Macdonald hits the reader over the head with the hammer of his imagery a few too many times, but otherwise delivers another solid outing in the early days of the Lew Archer series.

This is a classic noir detective story, with seamy settings, seamy characters and a private dick who tries to do the best he can. And yes, old-fashioned terms and concepts abound -- younger readers might not know what a person-to-person call is, nor recall when gas station attendants were
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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,

Other books in the series

Lew Archer (1 - 10 of 20 books)
  • The Name Is Archer
  • The Moving Target (Lew Archer #1)
  • The Drowning Pool (Lew Archer #2)
  • The Way Some People Die
  • Find a Victim
  • The Barbarous Coast
  • The Doomsters
  • The Galton Case
  • The Wycherly Woman
  • The Zebra-Striped Hearse

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