The Three Roads, an early work from the prolific pen of the legendary Ross Macdonald, is an interesting and worthwhile read, especially for readers who are already Macdonald fans. It was written before Macdonald had decided to concentrate completely on the hardboiled detective genre and is probably best described as a psychological thriller.
The plot revolves around Paula West, a strong willed and successful Hollywood screenwriter and the man she loves; Lt. Bret Taylor, a naval officer who suffers from amnesia. The story is told as a third person narration and takes place a few months after the end of WWII.
The first half of The Three Roads is strongly written and stands on its own as compelling reading. This part of the novel is noteworthy for its clever dialogue, its detailed development of the two principal characters and its very smooth narrative flow. The second half is less compelling in that it gets bogged down by both overwrought psychoanalytic theories and some plot elements that are rather implausible, to say the least.
Lt. Taylor is a very troubled man and his problems can be traced back to losing his mother when he was only four. Those familiar with Ross Macdonald's biography know that he himself was four when his parent's separated. That event had a terrible impact on Macdonald and is something he never really got over. Virtually all of his fiction, to one degree or another, centers around the profound and long term consequences of family dysfunction.
The Three Roads is a well written, though flawed, mystery in its own right. It also serves to illustrate how Ross Macdonald's lifelong effort to exorcise his own demons manifested itself early on.