Nostalgia City Mysteries

Mark S. Bacon

Category Archives: New mystery book

Ross Macdonald’s ‘The Chill’ — Convoluted, complex or chilling?


It wasn’t until recently that I discovered Ross Macdonald named his detective Lew Archer after Sam Spade’s partner, Miles Archer.

Makes sense. Many critics identify Macdonald as the literary heir of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, as the writer who polished and redefined the classic detective hero.  Macdonald said Chandler was one of his (other) main inspirations. He took Philip Marlowe and added a layer of psychosocial depth. But not right away. 

According to a variety of writers, the early books in Macdonald’s 18-novel series were more hard-boiled, cynical. Later, perhaps after his sixth novel, according to today’s mystery critics, Lew Archer developed a stronger social conscience distancing him from Spade and Marlowe.

Debatable. Sam Spade has a code which he explains or demonstrates more than once in The Maltese Falcon.  In one of the final scenes, Spade says,

“When a man’s partner is killed he’s supposed to do something about it. It doesn’t make any difference what you thought of him. He was your partner and you’re supposed to do something about it.”

Hammett explored the theme of duty more extensively in another book, The Glass Key. But regardless, a number of Macdonald’s later books examined the responsibilities and consequences of personal relationships, especially family relationships gone bad, skeletons, black sheep, sometimes covering more than one generation.  To solve his crimes Archer looked at family and community allegiances and probed the psychological makeup of suspects and victims.

The psychological element in crime is twisted and turned and studied in The Chill, Macdonald’s 11th Archer novel. One of the initial suspects is even kept under the care of a psychiatrist for much of the book.  The plot moves from one suspect to another with a string of three murders, one dating back twenty years; another, ten years; another, two hours.  Are they connected?  That’s one of many questions Archer has to answer.

Alex Kincaid hires Archer to help him find Dolly, his wife of less than 24 hours.  The couple, in their early 20s, were spending their honeymoon at a Southern California beach hotel when Dolly disappeared.  Rebuffed by indifferent local police, Kincaid spends almost two weeks searching for Dolly in vain. Archer finds the runaway bride after only a day’s work, but the trouble for Archer and his client is only beginning.

Paul Newman was Lew Harper, not Archer, in two films made from Ross Macdonald novels.

The story takes place in a fictional Southern California city, Pacific Point, where Archer finds Dolly attending classes at a local college and chauffeuring part time for a wealthy woman. Shortly after he finds her and reunites her with her husband, Dolly suffers a mental breakdown, and confesses to shooting her college advisor, Helen Haggerty. 

Archer had met the unmarried Haggerty at the university when he was looking for Dolly.  She poured on the charm and invited Archer up her nearby house for a drink.  She tells him she’s received telephone death threats and fears for her life. She asks him to spend the night. He turns down the attractive woman’s offer.  As he drives back to his Pacific Point motel he tells himself there was “no right  thing to do—only sins of commission and omission.”

Here’s where it gets complicated, and complications soon pile on. When Archer hears Dolly’s confession, he drives back to Haggerty’s home to find her dead in a pool of blood.  In the dark he fails to stop a man running from the house.  The stranger manages to drive away, but Archer makes note of his Nevada license plate number.

From here Archer follows leads—family connections of Haggerty and Dolly—that take him to Reno and a small town in Illinois.  He suspects the murder of Haggerty and of Dolly’s mother twenty years ago are connected.  It’s a confusing spiral, but it all makes sense in the end.

As you’re sorting out the complex story, Macdonald entertains you with philosophy and bits Chandleresque humor:

Some men spend their lives looking for ways to punish themselves for having been born, and Begley had some of the stigmata of the trouble-prone.

 _ _ _ _

“You’re entitled to your opinion,” she said, as if I wasn’t.

_ _ _ _

“What are you trying to do, trap me into a mistake?”

“It’s an idea. [I said] What sort of mistake did you have I mind?”

One Goodreads reviewer said the book is “extraordinarily complex but never convoluted.”

Maybe. The last sixty pages make you think, remember. Pour over the clues, the conversations that Archer has in Pacific Point and Reno and Illinois. Is the resolution far fetched? Not really.  Archer solves it by the process of elimination.


Dark Ride Deception: Where did it come from?


I love theme parks.  Four years ago I took my grown daughters to Disney World. I’d talked about such a trip for years, but we finally managed to find a time when both of them could take off work, bid their spouses adieu for a few days and jet off to Florida with old dad.

A trip of a lifetime for me and the best part, of course, was just spending time with the two of them. In addition, we were treated to all the distracting attractions the Magic Kingdom, Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood can throw at you. We plummeted in an out-of-control elevator, rocketed into space and strolled along a peaceful lake while munching food from different countries.   

Although I grew up in Southern California, I live out of state and had not visited Disney’s Anaheim park in more than 20 years, so the Florida adventure was all the more exciting.  As my girls and I enjoyed each park, we saw construction, evidence that engineers were working to expand ways to tickle your fancy or even subvert your senses.

Over the past two generations, people have grown up watching movies and TV shows featuring increasingly sophisticated special effects.  CGI, for computer generated imagery, is a part of our twenty-first century vocabulary.  Theme park rides had to follow suit, and in fact, the latest additions to Disney World are Star Wars extravaganzas.

So I thought that Nostalgia City theme park, the setting for my mystery series, needed a technological boost.  More special effects, more imaginative rides for guests.

Tom Wyrick, a computer genius in Nostalgia City’s Park Attractions Development Department, created just what the park—and my new book, Dark Ride Deception—needed. His Perception Deception Effect (PDE) surpasses anything at any theme park. 

Just how mind-bending is his invention?  Here’s how a Nostalgia City engineer describes it in the book: “Unless someone invents a transporter room or time machine, once it’s finished, PDE could be the vanguard for more than a decade…it’s a technological game-changer.”

Unfortunately, before Wyrick’s plans could be finished, he disappears, along with his secrets. Is he dead? On the run? Trying to sell his creation to the highest bidder?

Dark Ride Deception is now available for pre-order at the places linked below.   The book will be released Sept. 30.

Amazon US

Barnes and Noble



Amazon UK

Amazon Canada

Big News?


Okay, there’s no big news on the Nostalgia City front. And there hasn’t been. Since mid-March, 2020.

Some13 months ago I was in San Diego preparing for my part in Left Coast Crime 2020. I was scheduled for three events including a panel. This conference gives mystery fans in the west a chance to mingle with mystery writers, listen to panel discussions, and buy the latest, signed, whodunits.  I had just completed one of the first events of the convention’s first morning when LCC was shut as California shut down.

Mystery writer David Hagerty and I were going to host a table at the conference’s closing banquet. We were encouraged to decorate our table so I found a party store and bought plastic handcuffs, two rubber knives, a chrome plastic detective’s badge, a toy gun and masks.  Not pandemic masks—what’s that? These were black, bank-robber, Lone Ranger-style masks.  Now I’m stuck with these unused souvenirs taking up space in a closet shelf. Maybe I should host a murder mystery party for my vaccinated friends.

A year ago this past March I drove home and I have not made news since.  No book signings, no library talks, no book festivals or mystery conventions.  And, apparently, not many blog posts.  I have, however, been busy writing the fourth addition to the Nostalgia City Mystery series. Although I couldn’t go anywhere, the pandemic quarantine did not significantly alter my writing routine.  I posted the following on Facebook in answer to the common question about what I was doing about the isolation.

The new Nostalgia City book is Dark Ride Deception.  Watch this space for details.  In the meantime, here’s a look back at what was news before the pandemic.

Book Carnival in Orange, Calif., is one of the best-stocked mystery bookstores in the west. If you have a question about a particular author or book, give owner Anne Saller a call. She can find any book you’re looking for and has a stock of mysteries signed by some of the famous names in the business. And perhaps some of mine, too. This was my second visit with Anne. Desert Kill Switch had just come out. She hosted my talk and had me sign a stack of books.
After my first mystery came out, I appeared, sans beard, on Good Morning Reno on ABC channel 8. Amanda Sanchez and Dick Stoddard made me feel much more relaxed than I thought I would be.
Unlike 2020, the 2018 edition of Left Coast Crime was fun, start to finish. And it did finish. This panel discussed outlining a novel versus writing by the seat of your pants. The latter writers are called pantsers. Author Annamarie Alfieri, on the left, moderated, and I bookended on the right.
I was busy when the first book came out. Here I’m giving a talk at Mystery Ink bookstore in Huntington Beach, Calif.
I’m not talking into a mic at a crime scene here. Police tape around the stage area was appropriate dressing for the South Lake Tahoe Library’s mystery event, A Toast to Die For. I don’t remember what I said.
Truckee, Calif., is an old railroad town that sponsors a weekly street fair in the summer. I sold books and met some great people. That’s me under the awning, in front of the red building.

After this walk down memory lane, you can expect to find here–on a more regular basis–book reviews and articles on mystery authors, novels and films past and present. Stay tuned.

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