Friday 8 November 2013

Ross Macdonald's Lew Archer in Black Money and The Underground Man: British First Editions (Collins, 1966 / 1971)

As is her occasional wont, Patti Nase Abbott is running another of her author-specific Friday's Forgotten Books round-ups today, the author this time being Ross Macdonald. The previous recipient of this honour was Patricia Highsmith, and for that Friday's Forgotten Books – in September – I managed not only a review of Deep Water (and an accompanying prolix account of how I came into possession of a first edition of that novel) but a Highsmith shelf porn post and a Patricia Highsmith First Edition Book Cover Gallery too. By comparison, my contribution to the Ross Macdonald round-up is paltry: I haven't had a chance to read any Macdonald so you won't be getting a review, so all I can proffer is a pair of recently bought British first editions, both of them late-ish instalments in Macdonald's eighteen-novel Lew Archer private eye series, both impulse online purchases (they were cheap, basically) and both sporting striking restricted-palette dust jacket designs. Like this one:

The sadly uncredited jacket wrapping the 1966 Collins edition of Black Money, the thirteenth Lew Archer novel. Quite an uncommon edition this one – there are just four copies available on AbeBooks at present – which is partly what prompted me to acquire this copy from Brighton book dealer Alan White – that and that it's reportedly one of the better novels in the series, a "watershed", according to Thrilling Detective, "modelled on (or a homage to) Macdonald's favourite book, The Great Gatsby".

Perhaps more acclaimed, though, is this:

The Underground Man, the sixteenth Archer novel, seen here in its – not especially uncommon, which is why I managed to nab this copy for a few quid – 1971 Collins edition, with a dust jacket designed by the unfortunately named Roy Belcher. Frequently pinpointed as one of, if not the, best Lew Archer novels – see, for example, Malcolm Forbes' Daily Beast review, or Prof. William Marling's article – it was reviewed on publication by the author Eudora Welty, whose laudatory front-page New York Times Review piece (excerpted here) helped break Macdonald into the mainstream, turning The Underground Man, according to Robert L. Gale in A Ross Macdonald Companion, into "Macdonald's biggest bestseller".

In keeping with the general drift of book cover design from the mid-1960s on, post-Black Money the dust jackets of the Collins editions of four of the five remaining Lew Archer novels – The Instant Enemy (1968), The Goodbye Look (1969), Sleeping Beauty (1973) and The Blue Hammer (1976) – were photographic in nature – the exception being The Underground Man, the wrapper of which is very much of a piece with that of Black Money: an arresting, simplified design using bold blocks of colour. But as the two books fall either side of the dividing line between my two galleries – Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s and the recently established British Thriller Book Cover Design of the 1970s and 1980s – I've added Black Money to the former (under "Designer Unknown" down the bottom) and The Underground Man to the latter, thus illustrating the point I made in the introduction to British Thriller Book Cover Design that the division between design styles of particular eras isn't as clear cut as one might suppose.

I guess those four Collins editions with the photographic covers would have been a better fit for British Thriller Book Cover Design of the 1970s and 1980s than The Underground Man, but I don't own any of them (my Ross Macdonald collection is highly selective, comprising just a handful of books). I do, however, own this:

The 1971 second impression of the 1966 Fontana paperback edition of the debut Lew Archer novel, The Moving Target, which I bought over three years ago in Kim's Bookshop in Arundel. Fontana – Collins' paperback imprint – introduced this style of photographic cover design across their range of Macdonald titles in the early '70s, all variations on the same titillating theme of a close-up of part of a woman's body in conjunction with a target or a gun or a badge or somesuch. This one appears to feature the woman's buttocks – which, as I'm sure many would agree, makes the cover eminently suitable for the load of old arse that is British Thriller Book Cover Design of the 1970s and 1980s. (I thank you.)



  1. Is that a butt? I thought it was cleavage, perhaps because that's a much handier place to hold things.

  2. You may well be right, but I find the notion of this poor woman having to clench her bum cheeks to keep hold of a tiny cardboard target really funny. Which probably says more about me than it does the cover.

  3. Love that cover for BLACK MONEY, which i certainly consider to be macdonald's best (after THE CHILL). As for which part of the anatomy, it's certainly a bit of a poser ...

  4. I have this very edition of THE MOVING TARGET though I didn't know that the cover picture was a part of a woman's body. Now that you mention it...

  5. "I haven't had a chance to read any Macdonald so you won't be getting a review"

    Obviously not a literary journalist. Their motto is "I never read a book before reviewing it. It prejudices a man so."- Rev. Sidney Smith

  6. I think you'd enjoy Macdonald; the two I've read, The Moving Target and The Galton Case, were both very good, particularly the latter. He's often compared to Chandler, but I think he's actually more enjoyable; his books, in my limited experience, "flow" better. Plus he was prolific, so it will be a while before you run out of books to read!