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The Blue Hammer

The Blue Hammer - Ross Macdonald Blue hammer
The picture shows exactly what I imagined looking at the title of the book, but the image has exactly the same relation to the content of the book as yours truly to professional ukulele players: none.

A very dysfunctional family hired Lew Archer to retrieve a stolen painting; they did not want any kind of publicity by involving police into their affairs. The police had to be involved anyway after Archer found a man beaten to death who recently handled the painting in question. The second dead body made any efforts in avoiding bad publicity futile.

This is the final book of the series and the final book of the author who began showing signs of Alzheimer at the time. As such it is not as refined as what I expect from the series, but it is still a good book even if slightly lower than average. This was a very rare moment in the series when I was able to figure out what is going on exactly before Archer which was a letdown. He also recycled some of his own tropes that he invented and perfected earlier.

It is fitting to speak about the whole series in the review of the last book. Is it worth reading? Very much so. The influence of Raymond Chandler shows very clearly in the beginning which is quite understandable - show me a noir writer who says he/she was NOT influenced by Chandler and I show you a liar. By the middle of the series Macdonald found his own distinctive voice. He is known as the grand-master of families-with-skeletons-in-the-closet plot device. I would say anybody using this device after Macdonald was inspired by him, directly or indirectly.

He is also responsible for breaking one of my stereotypes. In my mind noir literature strongly associated with pre-WW2 US starting with twenties. Macdonald extended this time period all the way to seventies which feel practically like modern times compared to the beginning of twentieth century. This means there was at least one guy in 1976 who remembered how to write classic noir. I also like the idea which can be seen through the whole series: if you have a dark secret no matter how hard you try to cover it up sooner or later it will come back and bite you, hard.

Coming back to this book I feel it is closer to 3.5 stars, but considering the fact that the author had a very good excuse (his illness) and out of my great respect for the series I round it up to 4 stars.