Lew Archer is the heir apparent to Philip Marlowe, Raymond Chandler's hardboiled detective. Both were based in California and both were tough as they come but Archer was more openly sensitive than his predecessor. Archer's name came from another fictional detective Miles Archer, who was Sam Spade's partner in the series by Dashiell Hammett, and from Lew Wallace who wrote Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ. Lew Archer first appeared in 1946 in short story Find the Woman.
Millar lived in for three decades in Santa Barbara, California, and used it as the setting for most of his books, renaming it Santa Teresa. Later, mystery writer Sue Grafton set her alphabet novels in Santa Teresa.
There are 18 books in the Lew Archer series. The first one, The Moving Target (1949), was adapted for film as Harper (1966), starring Paul Newman. Scholars say Millar's first books were closely patterned after Chandler and Hammett. Millar, who held a doctorate in literature, drew on classic Greek myths for inspiration and post-war California for locale. His later works introduced more personal themes such as childhood trauma, the family secret, and the family scapegoat.
Millar first used John Macdonald as his pen name to avoid confusion with his wife Margaret Millar, who was becoming well known as a mystery and suspense writer, too. Then he changed briefly to John Ross Macdonald but that created confusion with John D. MacDonald, of Travis McGee fame. So Millar finally settled on Ross Macdonald.