BWW Review: IT'S ALL ONE CASE Makes the Case for a Great Novelist
Even those of us who agree with Millar's own assertion that "You don't have to know anything about the writer to understand the fiction," can acknowledge that anyone as self-aware as Millar was bound to reveal some meaningful part of himself when he was being queried with the honesty and intelligence Nelson brought to these interviews. Just how much he revealed, though, is a pleasant surprise.
It was hardly a given, for instance, that the man whose alter ego, Lew Archer, once lamented that rock and roll was "music for civilizations to decline by" would be a big Beatles fan.
On the other hand, no one who has read the Archer novels for either fun or profit could be surprised when Millar answers Nelson's "Do you think you're a prisoner of complexity in a way?" with "Yes, but a willing prisoner."
This rhythm of surprise and confirmation is what makes reading the book both an easy task (Millar was a great. fluent talker once he got going-not always a given with introspective writers) and a fascinating one (there's really no way to know what's coming next).
Certain themes do repeat: In addition to the expected references to Hammett and Chandler, Millar refers constantly to his favorite writer of all, F. Scott Fitzgerald, almost always with penetrating and useful insight. If you never thought of The Great Gatsby as a crime novel masquerading as high literature, he'll soon set you straight.
The book is divided by the subject matter of the interviews, rather than strict chronology, and once Nelson gets Millar rolling on a subject, any subject, the gems come forth with an easy flow:
You don't really become a Communist for no reason at all.
On Hammett's The Continental Op:
He isn't centrally a moral figure. How can he be when he reports in to a boss?
On myth versus realism:
I'm not writing about ordinary people, but on the other hand I'm not writing about the heroes of civilization either.
On modern cities (which he considered characters in themselves):
Cities have lost their claim to be centers of civilization-or if they are that they're also centers of violence.
On violence in his own life:
I don't have to be violent-my books are.
And on writing:
It's a demanding kind of work, you know, and it takes a long time to learn it and a long time to practice it. It can fill a life.
Of course, the theme that permeates the book more than any other is the relationship-real, imagined (by himself) and perceived (by others)-between "Ross Macdonald" and Lew Archer.
On that score, no one will ever better Millar's own description: "Imaginative autobiography."
For those significant parts of his life and work about which he was willing to open up, Millar was his own best critic and it's hard to imagine anyone who could have provided a better platform than Nelson, who unfortunately did not live to see this fine volume, perhaps his own most important work, published.
It's All One Case is an essential read for any fan or scholar of Ross Macdonald and American detective fiction generally. If you're not a fan, and you want to understand the direction of American life and culture in the past half-century, my advice is to read a lot of Lew Archer novels. But go ahead and buy yourself this one for a Christmas present. No matter how astute your own insights into the books might be, you'll always be able to learn more from the man whose final line here is "I don't intend to give up writing as long as I'm alive."
He was in the full grip of Alzheimer's shortly thereafter. He had no way of knowing that he had already written his last book.
One thing he did know was what our future would look like.
No writer ever brings a higher value than that.