Black Money

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First edition (publ. Knopf)

Black Money is a novel by US American mystery writer Ross Macdonald. Published in 1966, it is, according to Matthew Bruccoli and other critics, among the most powerful of all Ross Macdonald's novels. It was his own personal choice as his best book.[citation needed]

Plot summary[edit]

The plot is typically intricate: Peter Jamiesen, the jilted boyfriend of the formerly wealthy Virginia Fablon, hires sleuth Lew Archer to investigate the background of Francis Martel, a man of mysterious wealth, grandiose claims, and violent threats. Fablon and Martel quickly wed after Archer's arrival. The resulting inquiries take Archer from the homeless to the wealthy, a canvassing seen in other Macdonald novels. Archer links Martel and Fablon to old gambling debts and a suicide that might have been murder.

Except for brief forays into Las Vegas (the title refers to cash skimmed by casino operators to avoid taxes) and the environs of Los Angeles, the action takes place around Montevista. A wealthy enclave, Montevista is characterized by private clubs, opulent homes and exclusive medical clinics. The plot's implications, however, reach beyond California, as the edges of the story extend to Central America and Europe, whose cultures and economies the book sees as inextricably tied to American life.


Written in understated style, with dry wit and occasional aphorisms ("What you do to others you do to yourself. That's the converse of the golden rule") and without the sentimental biases that sometimes mar the author’s other books, Black Money maintains the speed of a thriller at the same time as it manipulates the reader’s understanding of its characters so as to render them icons of their classes and to lay bare their psychological tropes and moral dimensions.[citation needed] In this respect the book owes much of its vision to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (1925), and it is no accident that Fitzgerald is mentioned once in the text itself: Martel and Virginia Fablon share something of Gatsby and Daisy Fay Buchanan.[citation needed] As in Fitzgerald, the glittering surface conceals profound corruption.[citation needed] The denouement is darker than Fitzgerald's work, however.

The compression of the writing augments its emotive force, notably in the complex final scene, which, without having the “jolt” (to use the author’s own word) of The Chill (1964), has an accretive force that gives it even greater power—that of tragedy.[citation needed]