Review of The Moving Target

Updated on February 20, 2018
Early edition cover of Ross Macdonald's The Moving Target with art by Jerry Allison.
Early edition cover of Ross Macdonald's The Moving Target with art by Jerry Allison. | Source

Lew Archer is hired because millionaire Ralph Sampson may or may not have been kidnapped. There’s no shortage of possible suspects as Sampson traveled in strange social circles, including a fringe religious leader and an aging actress that moonlights as an astrologer and dominatrix. He also pushed around him employees and flaunted his wealth. As Archer tracks down available leads he discovers criminal enterprises ranging from human trafficking to murder, and all the while he can’t shake the suspicion someone in Sampson’s own family might have a hand in the man’s disappearance. Uncertain of who he can trust—including the police—Archer jumps into the investigation with both feet, trusting his instincts and determination to see everyone through.

Lew Archer’s Rules of the Road

An interesting element of the novel is Archer’s self-diagnosis of being an action junkie. He confesses to Miranda, “I like a little danger. Tame danger, controlled by me. It gives me a sense of power, I guess” (Macdonald 109). He does his job because he believes in doing right by his clients, but his actions show him to be a restless man who plunges into trouble. It is likely this behavior is why he doesn’t have many close friends and why his wife has left him (20). This thrill-seeking is evidenced by the risks he takes during the investigation such as sneaking onto Hollywood studio sets, trespassing, getting Fay drunk to get her to talk and gain access to her home, driving fast on mountain roads, setting up his own watch-point for the ransom drop, getting tough with the police, following kidnappers alone, provoking a fight with Puddler, confronting Taggert with circumstantial evidence, sneaking up on Tray and Marcie while they’re torturing Betty, and his confrontation with his friend, Bert Graves (35-9; 43; 53-66; 108; 135; 146; 153-5; 167; 182-4; 205-8; 232-7). This litany of risk-taking proves his character much more than him just talking about it as he does with Miranda.

In part because of Archer’s restlessness the story moves quickly. Even when Archer isn’t necessarily making headway on the case, he is getting himself into trouble, which keeps the book lively and entertaining. This character trait also sets Archer apart from previous hard-boiled protagonists whose actions are more informed by a sense of ethical duty. In “The Simple Art of Murder” Raymond Chandler says of a hard-boiled protagonist, “He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor--by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world” (Chandler 18). Archer fits some of those criteria but not all. He’s a good man and relentless but also flawed an aware of his propensity to invite himself into dangerous situations.

Detail from the cover of an earlier edition of The Moving Target.
Detail from the cover of an earlier edition of The Moving Target. | Source

West Coast Noir

The most common vice in the story is envy, making the novel a long meditation on the peril of coveting what is out of reach. Fay wants to still be seen as important and famous, Taggert and Betty want an easy way to wealth and security, and Miranda wants an elusive happiness she believes other people obtained. The clearest case of this theme is Bert Graves and Archer’s thoughts on him at the novel’s conclusion:

There may have been a time when Graves didn’t care about money. There may be places where he could have stayed that way. Santa Teresa isn’t one of them. Money is the lifeblood of this town. If you don’t have it, you’re only half alive. It must have galled him to work for millionaires and handle their money and have nothing of his own. Suddenly he saw his chance to be a millionaire himself. (242)

The temptation to take what others have becomes too much for many of the characters. Readers expect deviant characters like Troy, Claude, and Fay to fall victim to their envy, but someone like Graves, who represents the law, shocks the audience with his slide into criminality.

There is also the tangle of who is committing what crimes and the number of betrayals on all sides as everyone scrambles to get what they can out of a chaotic situation whether it be money, revenge, or a shot at the life characters think they deserve. While these elements do take time and attention to unravel, the novel’s plot is less convoluted that some of Macdonald’s other novels like The Chill and The Instant Enemy.

Final thoughts

The Moving Target is propulsive and interesting, introducing readers to Lew Archer the caliber of troubles in which he finds himself. Macdonald’s efforts certainly help elevated him to the ranks of his literary forbearers.

Source

Chandler, Raymond. “The Simple Art of Murder.” The Simple Art of Murder. Vintage Crime / Black Lizard, 1988.

Macdonald, Ross. The Moving Target. Vintage Crime / Black Lizard, 1998.

Questions & Answers

    © 2016 Seth Tomko

    Comments

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      No comments yet.

      working

      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, owlcation.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://owlcation.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

      Show Details
      Necessary
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Features
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Marketing
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Statistics
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)