Ross Macdonald’s plots are just as intricate as Raymond Chandler’s, but somehow he manages to tie it all together with no loose ends. (Who did kill that chauffeur anyway?) The only way I can imagine Macdonald putting together his mysteries is by writing a straightforward novel without a detective, then putting all the events in the wrong order for his detective, ex-cop Lew Archer to discover one at a time.
All the staples of the Lew Archer series are on display here, the post-war California setting, the miserable rich people, the people desperate for money, the psychological trauma underpinning it all. Unlike a lot of mystery writers Macdonald has a way of making a murder seem not just plausible but inevitable. Lew Archer navigates a world of damaged, unstable people with just as much bravado and grit as Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe.
Archer is hired by a pushy rich woman who refuses to come clean about why she needs a private eye or even her real name. She wants Archer to tail her colored ex-maid and take notes on where she goes and who she talks to. Archer takes her business against his better judgment and when the maid when up slashed from ear to ear he feels responsible for solving her murder even if his client won’t pay for it. The path to a solution eventually encompasses a missing rich woman’s son, a doctor’s wife with a past, and a terrible family secret among other goodies. Macdonald puts a lot of balls in the air, but none of them hit the ground. It’s an act that’s a must-see for any mystery fan.