Tuesday 16 November 2010

The Moving Target by Ross Macdonald (Fontana Paperback), plus Harper, William Goldman, Paul Newman, Francis Clifford, and Frank Sinatra

Next in Paperback Week – which, if you're just joining us, and as the overarching title 'Paperback Week' kind of implies, is essentially a week dedicated to paperback books – we move on to the books I picked up at the recent London Paperback and Pulp Fair. And we also move from one Ross... to another:

Namely Ross Macdonald (or Kenneth Millar, to give him his real name), and the 1966 first UK Fontana paperback edition of his debut novel, The Moving Target – originally published in the UK by Cassell in 1952 and in the US by Random House in 1949, under the name John Macdonald. So what's so special about this little paperback, I hear you cry? And perhaps more importantly, why on earth would I want to buy it when I already have a 1971 second impression Fontana paperback of the very same novel? As ever, those are both excellent, not to mention pertinent, questions. You people are on fire right now.

Really, it comes down to the scarcity of this edition – there are only a couple of copies of this '66 printing for sale online – and to that fab cover, which I suspect is the reason for its scarcity. Because it's the tie-in edition to the effortlessly wonderful William Goldman-written, Paul Newman-starring 1966 movie adaptation of the novel, Harper (or as it was called on its original UK cinema release... The Moving Target). I don't know if Harper is one of my favourite films ever, but it's certainly up there, and it does contain some of the greatest dialogue in cinema history, including one exchange that's always stuck in my head, where Pamela Tiffin's character (that's her on the back cover of the book) says to Paul Newman as P.I. Lew Harper (Lew Archer in Macdonald's book), "You probably still think a woman's place is in the home." To which Harper retorts, "Not in my home." And there are plenty more snarky lines where that came from.

As I mentioned there would be between some of the books I'm featuring this week, there's a thread connecting this particular edition of The Moving Target with the author of the first book in Paperback Week, Francis Clifford. Clifford's 1966 espionage novel The Naked Runner was turned into a critically ill-regarded (at least, back then) movie in 1967, starring Frank Sinatra. Sinatra needed a hit at the time, and The Naked Runner actually ended up doing pretty well at the box office by all accounts, perhaps due not only to Sinatra but to the solid job done by the director, Sidney J. Furie (who also made the brilliant The Ipcress File... the, er, less brilliant The Young Ones... the, um, even less brilliant Superman IV: The Quest for Peace... OK, let's stick with The Ipcress File). But Sinatra only agreed to star in the The Naked Runner because negotiations on another movie had broken down. That film? Harper.

There you go, y'see? Connecting threads. Hmm, I wonder what the connection to the next post might be...?


  1. Great post! After seeing the movie, I started reading Macdonald - and this was the edition I read The Moving Target in. Lovely photos of Mr. Newman and Ms. Tiffin, and I love that 60s spiral design behind Lew! Sadly, my copy fell to pieces. I'm always on the lookout for another on the second-hand shelves...

    I'm very pleased to have found your blog. It's great to see some of these cover designs (I've posted a few of my own Ross Macdonald acquisitions on my own blog). Looking forward to following your posts!

  2. Well ta very much. And I like the cut of your blog's jib too, particularly the Dr Who posts. Just added it to my reading list.

  3. Aargh! You've never read Ross Macdonald? When Anthony Boucher claimed Ross was a better novelist than either Hammett or Chandler he knew what he was talking about. Of the books I saw covers of in this entry I'd recommend reading THE UNDERGROUND MAN once you finish whatever you're currently reading. Don't be surprised if you clear your calendar and hang with Lew Archer until you've exhausted all 18 novels and dozen-or-so short stories about him.

    Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch series are the best mysteries by a living writer. Ken Millar (Ross) was light years ahead of him, especially the books he wrote in the sixties. The best of Macdonald's fifties' work is THE WAY SOME PEOPLE DIE with its evocative lead sentence: The house was in Santa Monica on a cross street between the boulevards, within earshot of the coast highway and rifleshot of the sea.

    The entire series features poetic writing, mature (a word not lightly used) storytelling and brilliant endings. You'll be a changed man after just one.

  4. Duly noted, Darryl. I'll get to Underground Man as soon as I can. Re Connelly, a fellow blogger and friend of mine, Book Glutton (you can find his blog in my 'Other Fine Blogs' sidebar) is a fan of his as well. And once again, I've never read anything by him. One day...

  5. Louis, let me recommend devouring BLACK MONEY along with THE UNDERGROUND MAN one day soon. Both are so good it's tough to say which one's better.

    Didn't see any pictures of the American paperbacks from Bantam. Eight or nine of their Archer books had photograph covers which are interesting for the way they deliberately misrepresented the true tenor of the series, not unlike Fontana's. Americans are too uptight for Fontana-style T&A covers anyway; case in point: most of us Americans don't even know what a page 3 girl is; I do however and thank God daily for the Sun.

    Forgive the digression, each Bantam photo was of a man and a woman. The woman was different every time but the same male model appeared in all of them. He glared or smirked at the camera, typically bruised and bloody as Mike Hammer but dressed like James Bond (although there is one particularly bad sport coat that never would've been in Bond's closet). One of them looks like Archer borrowed Doc Savage's ripped shirt (the one that the great artist Bama invented for Bantam's early DS cover paintings).