The Galton Case
, published in 1959, was Ross Macdonald's breakthrough book. Its predecessors are craftsmanlike, highly literate, hard-boiled detective stories; The Galton Case
and most of its successors are literature that happens to inhabit the detective-story form. For Macdonald the man, Galton
was the first book in which he explored his deepest personal concerns (he was the child of a broken home who was passed from relative to relative in his youth). For readers, it's the book in which he first perfected the balancing act that became his trademark: a tightly written page-turner that also probes profound themes and frequently rises to something like poetry.
The tale opens with detective Lew Archer visiting the swanky offices of a lawyer acquaintance, who engages him to hunt for a long-missing scion of the rich Galton family. Though the case seems fruitless, Archer begins digging. Soon a seemingly unrelated crime intrudes--but Archer tells us, "I hate coincidences." As he roams California (and, briefly, Nevada) following leads and hunches, he gradually uncovers a long-buried tale of deception, hatred, and the power of illusion. As usual, Macdonald can accomplish more with three lines of dialogue and a simple description than most writers can in three pages. The connection between Archer's two cases finally clicks about three-quarters of the way through the book, and the moving denouement, with its final plot twist, takes place in a hardscrabble Canadian boarding house much like those in which Macdonald spent parts of his childhood. The Galton Case is an exceptionally satisfying read on several levels. --Nicholas H. Allison