It's complicated--it may have you flipping back through pages with a furrowed brow in order to get it all straightened out--but it does straighten out nicely. This is a solid, highly recommendable hard-boiled whodunit.
Three murders span twenty years, and Lew Archer must trot around trying to tie them all together. There's a hint of blackmail, a whiff of adultery, a rumour of battery, the stench of a frame-up, but does it really all connect? This book features a host of drunken, disillusioned, and in some cases, dissembling suspects, but who's guilty of what? Who, in fact, is guilty of three murders that span decades?
The answer lies behind one clever trick, which definitely bamboozled me. Before the grand finale, MacDonald puts his hero, Archer, through the somewhat familiar routine of visiting, or bumping into, all the characters, several times over. This spinning-carousel of suspects--one reappearing to provide another piece of the puzzle just as one is spinning out of view--is a bit less like discernible clockwork than in, say, The Blue Hammer. The more of a sense of the unpredictable as a PI gumshoes around town following a line of interviews with puzzle-piece-holders, the better, in my opinion. This novel successfully avoids the "hero talks to this person, which leads to this person, which leads to this person, which leads..." approach, by throwing a few bumps in the road.
Finally, if Archer's inner life is not delved into much in this book, by way of a lot of cynical introspection and bleak shamus philosophizing, I for one am not too disappointed. The result is a quick pace, making this a more streamlined ride than some hard-boiled books, with their various philosophical pit-stops.
In this one, the mystery does say everything you need to know about the people involved...once you review the details.