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The Galton Case first editionFirst edition
Novel, 1959
approx. 84,000 words
Notable lines
First lines

The law offices of Wellesley and Sable were over a savings bank on the main street of Santa Teresa. Their private elevator lifted you from a bare little lobby into an atmosphere of elegant simplicity. It created the impression that after years of struggle you were rising effortlessly to your natural level, one of the chosen.

Great lines

The bright speck stood like a nail in my brain. It wouldn't let me let go of the room. I curse it, but it wouldn't go away. It wrote little luminous remarks on the red pounding darkness. This is it. You take a stand.
Then it was a light surging away from me like the light of a ship. I swam for it, but it rose away, hung in the dark heaven still as a star. I let go of the pounding room, and swung from it up and over the black mountain.
...I came to early next morning in the accident ward of the Reno hospital.

Last lines

John turned his head to listen. Even the dead men seemed to be listening.

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The author

The third figure in the holy trinity of American crime writing, along with Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, Ross Macdonald was actually Canadian in his upbringing.... more

The Galton Case


Where murder leads

It starts as a simple case for a rich old family, as many fictional P.I. cases seem to. Rich old Mrs. Galton wants to find out what happened to her son, whom she has not seen in twenty years—not since he disappeared with the trampy wife she didn't approve of. Lew Archer is expected to go through the motions to satisfy the old dame that the man can't be found, and to pick up an easy fee.

Of course we know it won't be so easy. Otherwise there'd be no story. And we're also not surprised when our intrepid sleuth starts picking up the trail that others missed decades ago.

But we're not quite prepared for where it takes him—and us.

Much of the turf is familiar hardboiled territory: a closed town, corrupt cops, tough guys, tough broads, gangsters and business figures who are hard to tell apart, the well-to-do who affect to float above it all.... But with the discovery of an apparent Galton heir, Archer is led deeper into family history. And not just Galton family history.

Further, he's led to investigate the psychological underpinnings of the crime that twists together two families—families spread so very far apart both geographically and socially.

In his search for the truth, Archer is led from California through Chicago and into Ontario, Canada—tracing backwards through author Macdonald's own life's journey perhaps. Knowing this, a reader cannot help but read more emotional depth into the novel than may first appear in the words alone.

But don't let all this psychological talk put you off. The Galton Case never reads like a treatise or even particularly deep. It's almost the perfect example of a novel working on different levels.

And on the level of a twisting, turning mystery story alone it succeeds. The writing is sharp, clever, though never melodramatic, and always helps the story, tightening up the action where required, and loosening up with witticisms and lyrical musings when we need it.

This author may have a doctorate in literature but he's one accessible writer.

Short words. Short sentences. Lots of dialogue.

Naw, take that back. Not "dialogue". People talking. The way people talk.

And Archer thinking. Thinking the way people talk.

But better.

— Eric McMillan




Ross Macdonald

See also:

Dashiell Hammett

The Thin Man

Raymond Chandler

The Long Goodbye

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The Galton Case

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