CBR11Bingo: I Love This (Not this book specifically, but post-war California noir in general.)
For a while I thought The Galton Case might be the realization of my Ideal Novel. I suppose it terribly “male” of me, but there’s nothing I like reading about more than a tough-guy private detective dealing with a rich family full of dark secrets, driving around California and occasionally getting knocked out by street-wise gangsters. Raymond Chandler is the most well-known practitioner of the form, but for my money Ross Macdonald’s Lew Archer series is every bit as good, with the added bonus that Macdonald wrote more books than Chandler.
I’ve been haphazardly working my way through the Archer series for a few years now, and they’ve been a consistent source of enjoyment. While there’s definitely a formula, they’re never formulaic. Macdonald is a master at plotting, using Archer’s investigations as a way to unravel messy, multi-generation scandals with genuine psychological complexity. When a Lew Archer novel works, it’s a wonder.
That said, I have to admit that The Galton Case is, in my opinion, a curious misfire. This despite the fact that the author himself is said to have considered it a favorite and reviews are sterling. All the elements are there: Archer is called to the bedside of an elderly rich woman who is near death due to a heart condition. Her last wish is a reconciliation with the son she disowned more than twenty years before, when he married a woman she deemed unsuitable. Though Archer thinks the son is either dead or untraceable after all this time, he is persuaded to take on the search, and soon finds himself tangled up in multiple murders and a twisted conspiracy.
Though the prose is classic Macdonald, for me the plotting is just a little off in this case. There’s too much of a reliance on coincidences and secret identities. The story is so convoluted it’s hard to keep track of who’s who and how these people are connected. Finally, a couple of the final twists are frankly pretty obvious, rendering the machinations to get there a little tedious.
No one hits a home run every time, and there is still much to treasure in The Galton Case, so I’m sure I’ll be back on the highway with Lew Archer before long.