This novel was also anthologized in the "Archer At Large" omnibus, which contains a revealing, fascinating foreward by MacDonald, who stated that The Galton Case was his "break-through book." And then he diclosed the numerous--and poignant--autobiographical parallels he had with the novel.
The Galton Case has a realistic, painful and angry intensity not present in any other Archer novels I've read--perhaps because MacDonald had put more of his life and sorrows into this book than in any other; into the examination of how the sins of the fathers ruin their sons' lives. For MacDonald every family is riddled with moral cancer: skeletons can never be fully shoved into the closet, especially because Archer, relentless and haunted, will bring them back to life.
It's true that MacDonald basically wrote the same work throughout most of his novels. All work out the same issues of buried identity, familial guilt and moral corrpution. This is not an entirely damning fact--it just means that Archer was a limited, minor artist (like Hammett and Chandler) and that he was fixated with a primal story that he retold continually. "The Galton Case" may be the finest version of that story--the most wounding, convincing and saddening.
As a stylist, MacDonald lacks Hammett's laconic grace and Chandler's brilliant flamboyance. Parts of this book can be awkward, while other parts display figurative language of uncommon acuteness and insight. MacDonald chose to work with a sparer, elegantly economic and less sensationalistic style--his sentences literally work up a quiet storm.
As a storyteller MacDonald is deeper, more human and more interesting than either Hammett or Chandler--because he is genuinely intersted in other people besides his detective. He doesn't make Lew Archer cooler(Sam Spade)or simply better (Philip Marlowe) than his clients. Archer is more like a hard-boiled, tough detective-shrink dealing with clients whose neuroses can be dangerous. His plots are neither ingenious displays of dedeuctive/inductive insight (a la Sherlock Holmes) or outrageously complicated messes (as in Chandler). Instead they resemble the gradual construction of a scandalous family tree, with hidden connections and relations acumulating into a damning account of old sins.
Unlike Spade and Marlowe, Lew Archer genuinely gives a damn about and sympathizes with his clients, who must deal with the horrible buried truths he discovers. MacDonald's true subject is in how families and friends are capable of hurting and crippling each other. The Taiwanese film director Edward Yang once gave a chilling coment on human relationships:"The bombs we plant in each other are still ticking." That quote goes striaght to the heart of MacDonald's mystery novels. They possess a fundamental humanism that's often missing not only from most crime stories, but from most novels and movies period.
You'll notice that I really haven't said anything in specific about "The Galton Case." The less you know about it before reading it, the better. Enjoy the story, and how it pierces straight into its target.