In The Chill a distraught young man hires Archer to track down his runaway bride. But no sooner has he found Dolly Kincaid than Archer finds himself entangled in two murders, one twenty years old, the other so recent that the blood is still wet. What ensues is a detective novel of nerve-racking suspense, desperately believable characters, and one of the most intricate plots ever spun by an American crime writer.
"The surprise with which a detective novel concludes should set up tragic vibrations which run backward through the entire structure," wrote Ross Macdonald in his 1981 Self-Portrait. Nowhere in his work does he better demonstrate this principle than in The Chill, first published in 1964. The plot is one of Macdonald's most masterfully constructed. Private detective Lew Archer is engaged to trace a missing spouse, who has vanished--apparently of her own free will--only a day into her honeymoon. Archer begins pulling at the threads of the case, and by page 25 they're already starting to reveal a deeper, darker story involving two murders 20 years apart. As usual, Macdonald's economical prose propels the reader forward from one action-packed scene to another, while the scenes in turn pile up to paint a rich, complex picture of buried memories, anguished relations between parents and children, the arrogance of the rich, and the search for identity. Then, at the end, one of the author's best surprise reversals changes the picture's colors entirely. Even if you're one of those discerning readers who find Macdonald's lesser work superior to most other mystery writing (as does this reviewer), The Chill stands out among his books. --Nicholas H. Allison