"I recognised him instantly. He looked like money about three generations removed from its source. Though he couldn't have been out of his twenties, his face was puffy and apologetic, the face of a middle-aged boy. Under his carefully tailored Ivy League suit he wore a layer of fat like early penetrable armour."

The quality of writing in Ross Macdonald's detective novels is outstanding. Throughout his tales of the rotting underside of supposedly respectable California, there are lines which leap out as poetry, lines where MacDonald captures a moment so precisely and sparingly it takes one’s breath away, There is no fat on a Ross Macdonald novel. He is constantly praised for the psychological depth he introduced into the hard-boiled yarn, but what people frequently miss is the restrained simplicity with which he brings these psychological insights to the fore. Macdonald is dealing with complex emotions, but doesn't make them unintelligiblycomplex. This is in effect psychology for beginners, but psychology for beginners written by a master wordsmith. He is taking those deep motivations and painful truths which drive human beings on and making them pithy and simple to understand. Macdonald is an expert at relating the dark and complex in a way which is clear and beautiful. Of course in this morally dubious world where murder is always just around the corner, it helps that we have the slightly unknowable character of Lew Archer as our guide. Yes, we understand little about his life, but we know what we need to know. He is a shop-worn private eye of the old school, who realises that the sands of what is right and wrong are always shifting beneath him. He wants to be the knight in shining armour and is always disappointed that the world around him isn't as honourable as he. He is the good man who will seek out wrong, though he will not just condemn, but try to understand. He is our guide through murder and treachery, he is our moral compass, but he is a compass who understands that North-East is sometimes as good as North.

Here Archer is hired by a jilted fiancé to find out all he can about the ex-lover's new man. What follows is a case of private tennis clubs, gangsters (and molls), colleges and illegal immigrants. Throughout MacDonald shows his mastery of the form, having tense scene follow tense scene, so that each character is dubious and a possible suspect. It means that even before the big reveal, every man or woman Archer encounters has their own guilt or guilt by association, their own motivations driving them forward. ‘Black Money’ isn't perfect, containing as it does at least two women whose main characteristic is that they are profoundly cursed by their own beauty, but it is still a brilliantly written work by a true master of the genre.