Review

Sleeping Beauty

by Ross MacDonald

It
is gratifying to see Vintage Press publishing Ross MacDonald's Lew
Archer novels in a series of uniform, higher quality editions.
MacDonald utilized Archer as a vehicle for observation and
documentation of the postwar sociological condition of southern
California in the mid-20th century. A less lofty, but equally
important function of these novels, however, is that, taken
together, they serve as a beacon and an instruction to future
generations of writers and readers of American detective fiction as
to how the job is done.
SLEEPING BEAUTY was written in the twilight of MacDonald's
brilliant career, at a point where he was running out of road but
not out of gas by any means. It opens with Archer flying home from
a Mexican vacation and seeing an oil spill off one of his favorite
places on the Pacific Coast. After landing, he decides to go down
to the beach to observe the cleanup operation. While there he
encounters Laurel Russo, a woman with a fragile, haunted air who is
working at wildlife reclamation in the aftermath of the
spill.
Laurel, as it turns out, is the daughter of Jack Lennox, whose
oil company is responsible for the spill. She is also estranged
from her husband and apparently has nowhere to go. Archer, ever the
knight errant, brings her back to his apartment to sort out her
situation. She abruptly leaves, but not before stealing some
sleeping pills from Archer's medicine cabinet.
Archer, concerned over the theft and Laurel's apparent
emotional instability, contacts her husband and family. When Laurel
goes missing, and her family receives a ransom note, Archer's
involvement becomes all-consuming. And he begins uncovering the
dark secrets of the Lennox and Russo families which have simmered
and boiled for over a quarter-century.
SLEEPING BEAUTY demonstrates MacDonald's absolute mastery of
his chosen craft. For example, he introduces Laurel Russo,
intrigues his readers with her over the course of a few pages and
then makes her disappear. She does not reappear again until almost
the end of the book; yet her presence haunts almost every line. The
oil slick, meanwhile, is a background metaphor for what is taking
place in the forefront of the tale: a singular event which stains
and permeates faraway events.
SLEEPING BEAUTY, as with MacDonald's other Archer novels, is a
classic to be savored slowly and reread regularly. Highest possible
recommendation.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 24, 2011

Sleeping Beauty
by Ross MacDonald

  • Publication Date: December 5, 2000
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage
  • ISBN-10: 0375708669
  • ISBN-13: 9780375708664