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Sleeping Beauty Paperback – December 5, 2000

4.6 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews
Book 17 of 18 in the Lew Archer Novels Series

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Ross Macdonald is either part or wholly wizard. . .conjuring the magic of real mystery. . . . A masterpiece." --Chicago Tribune Book World

"Sleeping Beauty is particularly complex and satisfactory. . . . It is a marvelous formula that Macdonald has found; the wonder is that he keeps improving it." --Newsweek

"Ross Macdonald remains the grandmaster, taking the crime novel to new heights by imbuing it with psychological resonance, complexity of story, and richness of style that remain inspiring." --Jonathan Kellerman

From the Inside Flap

In Sleeping Beauty, Lew Archer finds himself the confidant of a
wealthy, violent family with a load of trouble on their hands--including an oil spill, a missing girl, a lethal dose of Nembutal, a six-figure ransom, and a stranger afloat, face down, off a private beach. Here is Ross Macdonald's masterful tale of buried memories, the consequences of arrogance, and the anguished relations between parents and their children. Riveting, gritty, tautly written, Sleeping Beauty is crime fiction at its best.
If any writer can be said to have inherited the mantle of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, it is Ross Macdonald. Between the late 1940s and his death in 1983, he gave the American crime novel a psychological depth and moral complexity that his pre-decessors had only hinted at. And in the character of Lew Archer, Macdonald redefined the private eye as a roving conscience who walks the treacherous frontier between criminal guilt and human sin.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Crime/Black Lizard; Reprint edition (December 5, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375708669
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375708664
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #547,038 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Having just read Sleeping Beauty once again, I find myself perilously close to starting a cycle of rereading all eighteen Lew Archer mysteries. Sleeping Beauty is among the last of the Archer novels, and yet it would serve quite well as starting point for a reader new to Ross MacDonald's private detective.

As Lew Archer's flight returns to Los Angeles from Mexico, he looks down upon a large oil spill extending for miles off Pacific Point. That evening along the coast he encounters a young, angry woman attempting to rescue oil-drenched sea birds. Before the night is out, Archer has been employed to rescue the woman herself, thought to have been kidnapped. Her grandfather is the patriarch of the imposing Lennox family, and chairman of the company that is responsible for the spreading oil slick.

Lew Archer is essential to MacDonald's mysteries, but not as an action figure. Archer's task is to unravel the psychological complexities that define his clients, the suspects, and the victims. Often the solution to a crime lays in the distant past; later generations sometimes pay severe penalties for old sins.

The Lennox family skeletons are many. The plot is complicated and twists unexpectedly as Archer uncovers buried family memories and hidden infidelities, some stretching back to World War II. Tautly told in the manner of a Chandler mystery, Sleeping Beauty is superb detective fiction.

Lew Archer is often mentioned in conjunction with Dashiell Hammett's Sam Spade and Raymond Chandler's Phillip Marlowe, and is generally deemed as their natural heir. The respected literary critic and writer, Anthony Boucher, even argued that Ross Macdonald was a better novelist than either Hammett or Chandler.

Ross MacDonald was a pseudonym for Kenneth Millar.
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Format: Paperback
One of the obvious observations about Ross MacDonald's series of Lew Archer detective novels is that they are essentially the same story. Eerily MacDonald's plot lines reflect his own troubled and unsettled childhood. On the surface, this novel is about a very troubled young woman that seems to be in the wrong place at the precisely wrong times. It seems impossible that she could be innocent of anything or everything. Nevertheless, true to MacDonald's plot form, the real villains are the immature adults that compounded their original sins year by year, lie by lie. The true crime always is years in the past in Ross MacDonald's novels. The perpetrator forever spends his or her life covering up the original crime and always enmeshing his or her child into the original felony.
Ross MacDonald's prose is simply pure art. He settles you into the tacky 40's through 60's of California and then contrasts the empty lives of the rich and the destitute. He exposes his characters as being very troubled and not very innocent. Archer, his guide/protagonist is dogged as the revelation of the true perpetrator(s) slowly emerges. Terse first person narration gives this novel a stunning sense of realism.
This is a really wonderful detective novel, a form of noir that is so special. Vintage Crime/Lizard Press has reissued most of the Archer series and they remain as vital, and entertaining as when they were first printed. I recommend working through the whole series of these wonderful reprints.
However, having read them all and having read most of them several times over, this in my opinion is the best by a far measure. The best of this series is perhaps the best of all detective novels. Chandler and Hammett did not have the power of prose that Ross MacDonald so effortlessly spins.
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Format: Audio Cassette
This is a superlative production. Yulin doesn't merely read, he performs, and his voice matches the role. The other parts are nearly all well played, and the music never intrudes. Atmospheric and involving for 9 hours!
The book is one of MacDonald's last, and it has some of the overwrought quality that mar his later books, but this is only occasionally a distraction.
For those looking for other MacDonalds, the best are The Chill, Far Side of the Dollar, the Zebra-Striped Hearse, The Galton Case (all from 1959-65).
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Format: Paperback
*possible spoilers*

When I was a young man in the seventies, I was a devoted reader of Ross MacDonald. Since then, I have moved on to Michael Connelly, Laura Lippman and Lawrence Block. And many others. In digging through some old boxes of books I came across "Sleeping Beauty" by MacDonald. I remembered nothing about it except that it had impressed me long ago. So I reread it.

Some observations:

Unlike so much of current detective fiction, there is virtually no back story to PI Lew Archer here except for the fact that he is a former cop from Long Beach. In age when so many fictional detectives live in an ongoing soap opera, that was refreshing. For that reason, this novel makes a good place to start for the Archer uninitiated.

MacDonald's choice of plot lines for his novels varies little. The Archer novels usually start with a missing young person. Archer is hired. Three generations are introduced. A crime was committed decades earlier by the oldest generation. The next generation covered it up (and often got rich). Sins of the past come to haunt the third generation. All is on display here.

This novel requires and rewards close reading. It is not slam-bang hard boiled. It intricately picks apart the history of a family that has long been in denial about the rotten things done in the past.

Archer never gets shot, punched out or hit over the head in this book. As for gunplay, it's all off screen. What crime writer could pull this off today? Well, maybe Connelly.

Red herrings? A ton of them. Don't even try to guess the ending, which only appears on the final page. But it takes your breath away.
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