If Elric is a doomed agent of Chaos tearing down the world around him, then Lew Archer is an agent of the Truth burning down the illusions and fake props that society has erected. Lew Archer is a force of nature, an agent of Truth. Not so much law, as he tends to bend the law to his needs and ends in a relentless push to expose the pure, unadulterated Truth.
I just finished re-reading some Ross MacDonald novels. He wakes you up like a hard backhand to the face. Lew Archer lives in a world so bleak it make you long for the innocence of Mike Hammer.
Lew Archer lives in such a remorseless, hard world. Every investigation, he has it rough. Real rough. He gets the living hell kick out of himself over and over and simply gets back up. Pain can be ignored, cuts and holes stitched up, and bruises laughed at, as long as you keep moving forward, one step at a time. He fights hard–very hard–for every clue. He earns the answers he wrings out through plenty of his own blood, sweat, and tears. They are usually the worst secrets that he digs up, but he is relentless and keeps digging no matter how many easy “answers,” outs, or payoffs are provided, keeps digging no matter how many people beg him to stop, until every question is honestly and fully answered, even though no one wants to hear the terrible truth.
These mystery books, to me, are virtually unique is their harsh, damaging and psychologically scarring delivery. They are a damning indictment of humanity. There is no uplift and salvation in the end. There is only the unveiling–or better put, unearthing–of the truth, as if he were exhuming a corpse.