Ross Macdonald, “The Drowning Pool” (1950) – This is not a novel about the band responsible for that “let the bodies hit the floor” song, but a quick wiki browse indicates that they took the name for their band from the movie adaptation of this book starring Paul Newman! Very recent postwar disgust is the prevailing theme of this one. Southern California might be booming economically, but society has yet to gel into any real shape, crooks and grifters can be found on every level, and sunshine and cheap glitz can’t cover the rot. Private eye Lew Archer is hired by a sexy dame to investigate some poison pen letters she’s been getting. The dame lives in what should be an idyllic valley, but of course, even idylls are a cheap come-on in the land of dreams.
Crime novels can be hard without giving too much away! The dame won’t tell Lew much. Honestly, I might not have taken the case were I him, but he’s curious and horny. There’s conflict between the old idyllic farming town and the new oil money in the valley, some unfortunate (and kind of Freud-by-numbers, including the homophobia you get in even left-leaning crime fiction of this period) family psychodynamics, and drifters with sinister agendas and mouths full of lies. A big bad of sorts emerges about halfway through, and some murders. At one point Lew has to escape people torturing him with hydrotherapy (has anyone had a good experience with that? The only references to it I’ve seen are here and in “Thief,” and it wasn’t happy in the latter either) by doing one of my all-time favorite types of escape, filling a room with high windows up with water and floating to the windows (it doesn’t work that well but still). Would the physics of that work at all? Anyway, this is a tightly written and enjoyable little book. ****’