Kenneth Millar (1915-1983) is a popular crime novelist better known as Ross Macdonald. The author wrote the highly regarded ‘Lew Archer’ detective series for three decades. To break the constraints of the detective model, he wrote a stand-alone novel entitled “Experience with Evil” in 1954, later reprinted as “Meet Me at the Morgue”.
The author's concept was to create an everyman hero that solved crimes in California, paralleling Madonald's Archer character only this time using a parole officer in lieu of detective. I'm not sure the idea sparked any new ideas for Macdonald. Apparently the publisher couldn't find enough variation to create another series. Hence “Meet Me at the Morgue” is a stand-alone novel that should satisfy the author's fans.
The book places parole officer Howard Cross into the mix of a complex ransom plot involving a wealthy family's son. Cross's client, Fred Miner, is the prime suspect and his last known appearance was with the child. However, Cross primarily wants to defend the man despite Miner's prior conviction of manslaughter. When a ransom note arrives asking for the payout, Cross teams with the FBI and police in trailing the money. When the ransom funds are stolen from the instructed destination, the crime splits into two sections – finding the kidnapper and discovering who stole the ransom money from the kidnapper/family.
At the standard 170ish pages, this crime novel works well despite it's robust cast of characters. It can be dense in spots, provoking me to use a pad and pen to notate how the characters related to each other. I found Cross a capable, well-suited problem solver but there's a messy point in the finale that left me a little bitter. Despite those flaws this is an excellent novel and a great introduction to Macdonald's writing.
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