Tuesday, 30 October 2012

THE IVORY GRIN by John Ross Macdonald.

John Ross Macdonald (Kenneth Millar)
1915 - 1983

Was this splendid  Pan 1957 cover
art the work of  John Edwin Keay
(better known as Jack Keay)
Or could  it be John R Keay?
Sometimes you pick up a book and immediately get that certain feeling, which was what happened when I started this one - which just happened to be my first John Ross Macdonald thriller. That was back in 1988. On the back cover I found some connections with other authors. ‘John Ross Macdonald’, the cover blurb informed me, was a pen name used by Kenneth Millar who had written several thrillers under his own name and whose wife Margaret was no slouch herself when it came to tapping out an occasional mystery. Like The Iron Gates? I hardly needed further encouragement, and anyway, the plot had already got its claws into me and wasn’t letting go.
The plot: Lew Archer is hired by the butch Una Larkin to find a former employee, a young coloured girl who has run out on her. Archer doesn't like Una and only half-believes the reasons she's given for wanting to trace her former employee, when the girl turns up dead.  Archer wants to know why, and by this time he’s changed his employer and has begun searching for a missing man.
His new search takes him to a Gothic mansion, an insane mobster and a doctor who has lost all self-respect in his obsessive fixation with a faithless wife. 
Beside the quirky gothic touches, Macdonald conveys a brilliant picture of small town nineteen-fifties America which Ray Bradbury would have liked (and probably did).
The cover is graced with a positively luminous cover painting by 'Keay'. At first glance it's a fairly typical late nineteen-fifties cover.  But the near-photo-realism is unusual and also the luminosity  of  the colours.  The picture of the grey-suited detective sitting on the edge of a desk as he questions a suspect while a policeman in the background stands in the horizontal shadows of a  Venetian blind,  combines to creates a brilliantly time locked image redolent of  countless American TV cop shows or noir movies. It’s no wonder that the presenter of a BBC series about the tough women who featured in so many noir films delivered her chats years later sitting in front of this image. 

Now does anyone remember the name of that series?

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