When an escapee from the state mental hospital knocks on his door late at night, divorced ex-cop Lew Archer finds himself suddenly entangled in a long-running family drama. Carl Hallman is the scion of a powerful state senator, locked up because he blamed himself for the deaths of his mother and father. When Archer convinces Hallman to turn himself in, the detective’s sense of curiosity gets the better of him, and when he asks one question he finds himself knocked out on the floor and without his car.
After Carl’s domineering brother gets shot and killed later that day things don’t look good for Archer’s would-be client, but the surprisingly sympathetic Archer thinks that everything is wrapped too neatly to be true. Sticking his nose in where it isn’t wanted, Archer discovers a family where each member is suspicious of the rest and nothing is as it seems.
MacDonald’s sharp prose and steady pacing maintain the reader’s interest throughout this short novel, and the eventual solution is startling but plausible. MacDonald is on solid ground with his attempts to create psychologically valid reasons for the murders that accumulate, even as his cast of characters variously ascribe them to fate, to genetics, and to a family curse. Lew Archer is too sensible to believe in curses, but he’s seen enough of the world that he can’t dismiss them out of hand.