"ROSS MACDONALD REMAINS THE GRANDMASTER, TAKING THE CRIME NOVEL TO NEW HEIGHTS": VERY SCARCE PRESENTATION FIRST EDITION OF BLUE HAMMER, MACDONALD'S FINAL LEW ARCHER NOVEL, INSCRIBED TO HIS CLOSE FRIEND AND LAWYER, WITH LAID-IN LEAF CONTAINING MACDONALD'S EARLY AUTOGRAPH DRAFT OF THE NOVEL'S OPENING, ENTIRELY IN HIS HAND
MACDONALD, Ross. The Blue Hammer. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1976. Octavo, original half black cloth, original dust jacket. $4800.
First edition of Macdonald's 18th Lew Archer novel, published under Kenneth Millar's best known pseudonym of Ross Macdonald, a memorable presentation copy inscribed by him as "Ken" to his longtime friend and lawyer Harris Seed, "To Harris, one of the best friends, and the best lawyer, a writer ever had. Ken." The copy is especially distinctive in containing a laid-in leaf with Macdonald's autograph draft of the novel's opening, entirely in his inked cursive, featuring text considerably different from the published work.
To noted critic Frank MacShane, Macdonald remains "one of the best writers of his generation." Writing of Blue Hammer, Macdonald's 18th Lew Archer mystery and his 24th novel overall, MacShane called it "a perfect example of the power and potential of the murder story… and I could not help but think of Ford Madox Ford's Good Soldier." To Julian Symons the novel was "in some ways the peak of Macdonald's achievement. His colleague H.R.F. Keating, including Blue Hammer in 1987's Crime & Mystery: The 100 Best Books, echoed Symons in thinking it a peak achievement for Macdonald." The same year Blue Hammer was published, however, Macdonald was already showing signs of Alzheimer's. He died in July 1983 at the age of 67. In addition to William Goldman, other writers who credit Macdonald as a fundamental inspiration include Robert B. Parker, Sara Peretsky, James Ellroy, Sue Grafton, Jerome Charyn, Thomas Berger and Jonathan Kellerman, who wrote of him in 1990: "Let's be honest: Ross Macdonald remains the grandmaster, taking the crime novel to new heights… Those of us in his wake owe a debt that can never be paid" (Nolan, 372-73, 413-14; emphasis in original).
This presentation copy contains an accompanying leaf of an autograph draft of the novel's opening, entirely in Macdonald's manuscript hand on the leaf recto. His text is noticeably different from the printed version, offering an exceptional glance into Macdonald's creative process. It reads: "The house set on the higher ridge in Santa Teresa. I drove up to it on a blacktop road which wound through and under a grove of [unclear], emerging onto a wide parking apron. When I got out of my car I could see the city on the one side, and on the other side the blue [unclear] enclosed by its islands. The only sound, apart from the distant humming of the highway which I had just left, was the sound of a tennis ball being bounced repeatedly against a wall. A big thick bodied [big-bellied] man wearing shorts in a white tennis hat came around the corner of the house. 'You Archer?' 'That's my name.' 'You're late for our appointment.' 'I had some trouble finding your place.' He offered me a wide smile which [unclear]. 'That doesn't say much for your [unclear] as a detective.' 'You didn't give me very good directions.' 'You could have asked anybody in town.' He swung his arm, rather royally, toward the city at the foot of his hill. 'Everybody knows where I live.' He looked around at his house with some satisfaction. It had been built in the Spanish Mission style, out of white stucco and red tile, and it was very large [eight words lined over]. 'How do you like it?' he said. I didn't. It was big and dull, without style, and gave the impression of being a public building, the kind of place where you go to pay your taxes. 'It looks like a million dollars,' I said accurately. [sentence lined over] 'I could sell it for that. Let's go in.' The house was pleasantly cool inside, though I could feel its weight above me and surrounding me. The furniture was Spanish Inquisition. Biemeyer made a flat-handed pushing motion which was his way of inviting me to sit down. I sat down. He stood over me. 'I won't offer you a drink,' he said. 'I want you to have a clear head. Allright [sic]?'" With "First edition" stated on copyright page. Reilly, 987-89. Magill, 1135-40. Bruccoli & Layman, 244. Hubin II:I,527. Steinbrunner & Penzler, 262-63.
A fine copy.