“The Galton Case,” by Ross Macdonald: A dirty, dirty job for Lew Archer

An extremely rich woman wants Lew Archer to find her long-lost son, in hopes she can make amends before she dies.

It sounds like the coldest of cold cases, but things heat up soon enough. Macdonald's hard-boiled tale is one of those in which each mystery solved reveals another mystery behind it. Lies, murder, despair abound. Archer must contend with deceptions and truly despicable people before he can unravel the tangled web of murder and scheming.

This is the eighth book in the Archer series, but one of the great strengths of this particular string of novels is that you can pick up any one of them without worrying about the order. If you have not read Macdonald, "The Galton Case" is as fine a place to start as any.

The Archer series also is a must-read for anyone who wants to write a novel in first person. Macdonald is a master at it. Consistent voice, just enough description of people and places to make things seem real, few meanderings from the main line of the story. First person narratives can be tricky, but Macdonald makes it look deceptively easy.

Raymond Chandler is usually the first name that comes up when discussing writers of hard-boiled detective fiction, but Ross Macdonald deserves to be mentioned within the first couple of breaths. The Archer stories do not feel as dated, to me, as Chandler and Dashiell Hammett sometimes do. I think that is mostly a matter of dialogue; Macdonald uses less period slang. Macdonald also succeeds in writing novels that are clearly in the hard-boiled vein without coming off as someone trying to sound like Chandler or Hammett. Good, good stuff for hard-boiled detective fans.

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