Detective novelist Kenneth Millar, better known by his nom de plume Ross Macdonald, was born on this day in 1915 in Los Gatos, California. He wrote 24 mystery novels, 20 of them featuring detective Lew Archer.
Macdonald’s literary approach to the hard-boiled detective novel helped elevate the genre. His character Lew Archer first appeared in The Moving Target (1949). Archer’s streetwise, no-nonsense exterior protected an introspective and thoughtful character. Other books featuring Archer include The Galton Case (1959), The Name Is Archer (1955), and The Underground Man (1971).
Macdonald was born in Los Gatos but moved to Canada as a young boy after his parents’ divorce. Captain of the boys’ debating time in a town called Kitchener, he later married the captain of the girls’ team, Margaret Strum, who also became a successful mystery novelist under her married name, Margaret Millar.
Macdonald taught school in Toronto and took a Ph.D. in American literature at the University of Michigan in 1951. While he was serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II, his wife bought a house in Santa Barbara, where the couple settled and lived until Ross Macdonald’s death from Alzheimer’s disease in 1983. The couple was active in environmental conservation, and Ross Macdonald founded a conservation group called Get Oil Out after an oil spill off Santa Barbara’s coast in 1969.