Almost twenty years have passed since Anthony Galton disappeared, along with a suspiciously streetwise bride and several thousand dollars of his family's fortune. Now Anthony's mother wants him back and has hired Lew Archer to find him. What turns up is a headless skeleton, a boy who claims to be Galton's son, and a con game whose stakes are so high that someone is still willing to kill for them. Devious and poetic, The Galton Case displays MacDonald at the pinnacle of his form.
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