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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Instant Enemy

Ross Macdonald

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To purchase The Instant Enemy

Title: The Instant Enemy
Author: Ross Macdonald
Genre: Novel
Written: 1968
Length: 205 pages
Availability: The Instant Enemy - US
in Four Later Novels - US
The Instant Enemy - UK
The Instant Enemy - Canada
The Instant Enemy - India
La mineure en fugue - France
Durchgebrannt - Deutschland
Paura di vivere - Italia
El enemigo insólito - España
  • A Lew Archer novel

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Our Assessment:

B : a bit off kilter, but a solid read

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Times . 24/8/1968 H.R.F.Keating
TLS . 26/9/1968 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "(A)bove everything else, there is the layer of society into which our crusader classically penetrates, the world of the supremely wealthy Californians" - H.R.F.Keating, The Times

  • "Another of Ross Macdonald's admirable Californian private-eye stories" - 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 Instant Enemy begins with private eye Lew Archer being called to Keith Sebastian's house. The Sebastians' seventeen-year-old daughter, Sandy, has apparently run away -- and taken her father's shotgun with her. After being a good girl all her life she's been troubled for at least a few months now, and taken up with nineteen-year-old bad influence Davy. Archer takes the case -- noticing also the tension between husband and wife, and how they're stretched thin, despite Sebastian's decent job:

Their smart new house cantilevered over a steep drop was an almost perfect image of their lives.
       Sandy's mother, Bernice, reads her daughters diary, and hints that there are clues to her changed behavior there -- but she won't share with Archer, not until very late in the day. (When she does, the revelations are certainly shocking enough to explain a lot.) Archer goes to Davy's home, but doesn't find him or the girl there. What he does find is a crudely drawn map, and the sawed-off barrels of a shotgun .....
       Talking to Davy's probation officer is hardly reassuring -- he tells Archer: "I'd say that the girl and Davy are spurring each other on to do something really wild". When Sebastian recognizes the map as one of his boss Stephen Hackett's place, Archer is understandably concerned. He goes to warn Hackett -- but it turns out not to be enough: Hackett is kidnapped by Davy and the girl.
       Hackett's mother -- who is disturbingly close to her son -- wants to hire Archer, too -- she doesn't trust the police, especially after they didn't solve the murder of her own husband, fifteen years earlier. There's a potentially huge payday there for Archer -- but the complications, and bodies, he finds make it an anything but open and shut case.
       Finding Sandy isn't that difficult; keeping her safe -- from herself, it turns out -- proves more of a challenge. And meanwhile Davy seems to have gone completely over the edge.
       Two murders that happened only a few days apart fifteen years earlier, and a mess of family entanglements keep Archer suspicious and busy:
Cases break in different ways. This case was opening, not like a door or even a grave, certainly not like a rose or any flower, but opening like an old sad blonde with darkness at her core.
       Finally, the old family and police secrets bubble forth, and Archer puts it all together -- saying good-bye to his big payday, along the way. At least he manages to maybe set Sandy and her protective but misguided father on some course for a future, saving each of them from them their worst instincts (as Sandy sure needs and deserves some professional help).
       Macdonald is pretty weak on some of the drug angle -- LSD and marijuana -- but seems to realize as much and doesn't make it figure too significantly. The perverse and complicated family relationships -- it's a wild set-up, behind it all -- can get a bit confusing, but at least pay off with a good final reveal.
       Still, this story is less about whodunnit (or, for that matter, what the hell was actually done ...) than Archer going through his motions:
I had to admit to myself that I lived for nights like these, moving across the city's great broken body, making connections among its millions of cells. I had a crazy wish or fantasy that some day before I died, if I made all the right neural connections, the city would come all the way alive. Like the Bride of Frankenstein.
       Archer/Macdonald do a pretty good job here: Macdonald does atmosphere really well, and there are some very fine parts here where he struts his stuff. The Instant Enemy isn't first-rate Macdonald, but it's still a pretty darn good read.

- M.A.Orthofer, 1 November 2017

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The Instant Enemy: 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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