Sunday, 28 October 2012

The Drowning Pool by Ross Macdonald

This is the second novel by Ross Macdonald I've read and I'm not really impressed. He can write - there are some great descriptions, some witty observations and quips, even a few similes that aspire to Chandlerian heights. But the plot is all over the place and I'm not sure the prose makes up for it as it does in Chandler's best novels. There's a lot of woman-hating dressed up as condescending chivalry and Macdonald's depiction of a pair of crypto-gays (he never comes right out and says that's what they are) is cliched and shallow, especially weighed against Archer recalling his father's friend's scent of 'clean masculine sweat' (what the fuck is clean sweat?) and other bits of manly-man romanticism like the final bout of fisticuffs with a local police chief. On the other hand, there are some stunning moments like Archer's escape from a hydrotherapy clinic lock-up and the masterfully conjured squalid atmosphere conjured in his examination of a murder suspect's boarding-house room. But the more I think of it, the more objections and niggles I find to pile up against the good points so I'm going to just say that I found it readable and reasonably diverting and leave it at that.

The Hungry Moon by Ramsey Campbell

The story gets off to a good start as we see a small British town fall under the spell of a charismatic preacher - and then under the more ancient spell of the creature that takes him over. Campbell weaves together cosmic horror, paganism and our fear of deep dark places to create a breathtaking underlying concept. The character sketches of the various small-town people involved in the story are sharp and vivid, and the claustrophobic sense of being trapped in a world where human bloodiness and eldritch evil are aiding and abetting each other is built up skilfully.

However, the resolution seems almost too fortuitous, with a pivotal character singing the moon-thing into submission. It seems out of place, even though this character has been built up as the heroine all along, because there's simply no previous allusion to this business of singing. It comes out of nowhere and feels like just any old device to make sure the story ends with the world safe, if not entirely sound. The nuclear paranoia angle also feels tacked-on and doesn't really go anywhere.

Still, a marvellously paced, insidiously creepy novel with a great weird concept at the heart of it.

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