The Ferguson Affair, Vintage Crime at Its Best
For the last few nights I have been curled up in bed with another man, deeply involved in a torrid affair. My husband couldn’t have cared less.
Macdonald populated The Ferguson Affair with the usual cast of characters—some not too guilty, others not too innocent. The protagonist is young lawyer Bill Gunnarson, who has a pregnant wife ready to deliver at any moment. His court-appointed client is a nurse arrested after attempting to hock a stolen ring. The cops think she’s part of a burglary gang. Gunnarson, unsurprisingly, thinks she’s innocent. The problem with innocence is that the people who believe in it are led down dark alleys into darker situations.
Macdonald had a wealth of talents; one was the creation of complex characters who did good things with bad intentions and bad things with good intentions. His heroes and their close associates are usually the only characters who are what they seem, although they may also have their secrets. The Ferguson Affair features a millionaire with a shameful past, his movie star wife who has been kidnapped, deadbeats, lowlifes, and a variety of characters who aren’t as bad (or as good) as they appear.
While the denouement was not as satisfying as in Macdonald’s Meet Me at the Morgue (1952), the plot twists are darker and the ending is less hackneyed. If one plans on staying up all night reading, The Ferguson Affair is a good choice. Well written, it crackles with smart dialogue and world-weary description (“It resembled a conversation on a lower floor of merry hell, where two dead souls re-enacted a meaningless scene forever”). Mystery fans will enjoy its multi-layered denizens, and may even sympathize with a few.
Bottom Line: Would I buy The Ferguson Affair? Yes, this re-issued novel is a timeless classic.