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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Goodbye Look

Ross Macdonald

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To purchase The Goodbye Look

Title: The Goodbye Look
Author: Ross Macdonald
Genre: Novel
Written: 1969
Length: 205 pages
Availability: The Goodbye Look - US
in Four Later Novels - US
The Goodbye Look - UK
The Goodbye Look - Canada
The Goodbye Look - India
Un regard d'adieu - France
Geld kostet zuviel - Deutschland
Il mondo è marcio - Italia
La mirada del adiós - España
  • A Lew Archer novel

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Our Assessment:

B : crowded, and plays the refusal-to-reveal-information card too often

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Times Book Rev. . 1/6/1969 William Goldman
Sunday Times . 31/8/1969 Edmund Crispin
The Times . 30/8/1969 H.R.F.Keating
TLS . 16/10/1969 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "Diffuse plot and the usual blobs of tough prose poetry, but all in the upshot curiously spiritless. Not among Mr Macdonald's best." - Edmund Crispin, Sunday Times

  • "Lew Archer, private eye, again laconically tears open the glistening edifice of a Southern California plutocrat and reveals the tangled slime of base motives beneath." - H.R.F.Keating, The Times

  • "(C)omplicated and perhaps slightly overpopulated" - Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Goodbye Look begins with private detective Lew Archer being hired by a lawyer, John Truttwell, to look into "a rather peculiar burglary" committed at his clients -- and across-the-street neighbors -- Larry and Irene Chalmers: the only thing stolen was a gold box with some letters in it, taken from a safe. The Chalmerses don't want the police involved, so it's up to Archer to get to the bottom of things -- but he soon finds that this particular pit is much darker and deeper than it first seemed.
       The Truttwell-Chalmers connections run deep: the lawyer's daughter, Betty, is engaged to the Chalmers' son, Nick -- and some two decades earlier Betty's mother was killed when she was run over by a car driven by some people she apparently scared off trying to burglarize the very same house .....
       No one has seen Nick for a few days, and he has had some problems, apparently -- which seem to have flared up again, as Betty reports that something had come over him recently: "All of a sudden he quit caring". But before Archer can find Nick he finds a body -- of the man Betty reports Nick having gotten in a confrontation with recently. And though he finds Nick soon, Nick is in a bad way.
       The root of Nick's problems seem to lie in the past too: he was abducted when he was eight years old, and though he returned to the family quickly, something traumatic clearly happened. Was he molested ? Did he kill the man who kidnapped him ? (Yes, there's another unsolved homicide, from nearly two decades ago, that seems to have some bearing on the present-day situation; indeed, soon enough a gun connects past and present crimes.) Nick has been under the care of Dr.Smitheram since then -- but neither Dr.Smitheram nor his parents are talking, so Archer doesn't know exactly what might have happened back then.
       Throw in a bank- (and lives-)destroying embezzlement all those years ago as well -- with some of the cash possibly still out there -- , and there are crimes and motives galore to go around, and they aren't even the half of it.
       Nick is carrying around a tremendous amount of guilt, and is suicidal, while the Chalmerses and Dr.Smitheram seem to be blocking Archer's every attempt to get at the truth. Apparently there's a can of worms that they really don't want opened, and they think they've got a handle on things -- even as pretty much every turn shows they don't. Truttwell does seem to be looking out for everyone's best interests -- leading the Chalmerses to fire him, too, at one point -- but some of his own issues get in the way, specifically the fact that he doesn't want Betty involved with Nick, making for familial tensions that don't make Archer's job any easier. (Strong-willed Betty at least proves reasonably helpful, but her determination can get in the way of things as well.)
       Mrs. Chalmers lost faith long ago -- "You can't trust anybody, don't you know that ?" she tells Archer -- and that seems to be the common feeling here. Admittedly, often for good reason. Still, the evasiveness of too many people with bits of valuable information gets to be a bit much here. It's an odd detective novel where the common refrain is practically -- as Mrs.Smitheram pleads --:

Please don't ask any more questions, Lew. The questions spoil everything.
       The stonewalling can only go so far, because the mess is such a complicated heap that it's impossible to keep everything secret. Unfortunately, the resolution reveals a great deal of dissembling, too: people who aren't exactly who they seemed to be, in various ways.
       There's some very fine writing here, right from the opening:
     The lawyer, whose name was John Truttwell, kept me waiting in the outer room of his offices. It gave the room a chance to work me over gently.
       And there are the usual pithy Archer-observations -- when someone says that everyone wants money: "'Not me,' I said. 'Money costs too much.'". But this is yet another Archer-case that dredges up unsolved murders from a generation past and has them resurface with a vengeance in the present, which at some point -- like a novel or two ago ... -- begins to feel old. And the tangle of (hidden) relationships and identities is rather extreme here as well; it's kind of a mess of a plot, allowing Macdonald to go through his usual motions but not exactly the most compelling of cases to exercise them on.
       Many of the usual Macdonald pleasures are to be found here, with some decent unexpected turns and a bit of suspense -- hey, Archer even gets shot ! -- along with the usual strong writing, but it's definitely a second-tier effort.

- M.A.Orthofer, 20 November 2017

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The Goodbye Look: Reviews: Ross Macdonald: Other books by Ross Macdonald under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Canadian-American author Ross Macdonald (actually: Kenneth Millar) lived 1915 to 1983.

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