Macdonald, the dean of American hard-boiled writers at his death in 1983, once said that his short stories didn't "belong with my mature work." And this slender volume, which reprints three early stories Macdonald didn't even think worth collecting in Lew Archer, Private Investigator (1976), marks yet another step down. Even so, the tales are full of interest as milestones in the gifted author's development. "Death by Water" (1945), starring a bland private eye named Joe Rogers, is a neat, tidy whodunit with scarcely a trace of the emotional depth of Blue City (1946), let alone the Archer novels. "Strangers in Town" (1950), though only a few pages longer, packs a world of sad disillusionment into its tale of a gangster's moll on the run. And "The Angry Man" (1953), at once the most economical and the most deeply felt of the three, moves with an unerring swiftness from its opening scene, in which an escaped mental patient confronts Archer in his office, to its murderous denouement with all the efficiency of an Archer novel—and no wonder, since Macdonald used it, like "Strangers in Town," as the basis for a novel. In his informative introduction, which runs longer than any of the three stories, Macdonald biographer Nolan identifies the novels in question; readers with a taste for surprise may want to save the introduction till after they've savored these last crumbs from the master's table.
For Macdonald completists only, but they'll cherish every word.