Written in 1966, under the pseudonym of Ross Macdonald, Kenneth Millar accomplished yet another compelling tale to add to his already extensive work in the Lew Archer, Private Detective Series.
Colombo meets Miss Marple in this slightly bizarre twist on a detective, who done it! Whilst Archer eventually draws a conclusion to the murders that have taken place in a wealthy Californian seaside town he seems to struggle along the way and seeks help in the most unlikely characters.
Hired to find out about the “new man about town” who has won the heart of the beautiful young, talented Ginny Fablon, Archer uncovers more than he bargained for. Peter Jamieson is determined to win the heart of childhood sweetheart back and is pretty much prepared to do anything to stop Martel from whisking her away into the sunset. Several in the town believe that she has fallen for this individual because many of his characteristics mirror that of her late father, who committed suicide seven years ago. But was it a suicide? From the very beginning of this novel Archer feels uneasy about the cause of Mr Fablon’s death and keeps asking questions that locals struggle to answer.
The local doctor, Dr Sylvester and her mother Marietta try to hide past secrets which they feel would further hurt Ginny but it later transpires that these secrets have come back to haunt her. Fablon was a gambler who owed the wrong man a great deal of money, which he could not afford to pay back. To wipe out the debt instead he was offered a way out, basically sell his daughter. She would get an education in France where she could develop into a well-educated young woman – her father has no intention of letting one man take his pride and joy away and therefore refuses. The following day he turns up dead; people believed he has killed himself, walking into the sea, leaving his fate up to nature. This however, turns out not to be the whole truth. The night of his refusal leads to a severe beating at the local country club where it would appear the whole town held membership. On leaving the villa he lost his balance and fell into the pool drowning. A young worker spotted Mr Fablon face down in the water and offered to help remove the body at a price – he wanted to become the well-educated individual.
Fast forward seven years, Martel appears on the scene, polished and debonair he appeals to Ginny. Since her father died she has been obsessed with anything French and becomes completely infatuated with this desirable man. Aloft and distant from others people realise they know very little about the man that is now renting one of the largest houses in town. He exudes wealth and confidence; people believe he was born into a family of substance and it is only after Archer starts to delve into his past that others start to question this rather reserved young man.
Archer is not the only person that has been hired to find out about Martel, Harry, a rather obtuse individual is being paid by his ex-wife to uncover the truth – where is Martel’s money? Is it Martel’s money?
The unlikely trio of Archer, Peter and Harry end up running around the Californian Hills to try and solve the mystery, stumbling across more barriers as they go.
Harry is assaulted and admitted to hospital, Archer becomes involved in a love triangle without even really realising and Peter eats his way through a ton of food to try and make himself feel better. The biggest issue however, arises when Martel is shot and killed at his own front door just days after marrying Ginny – was she to blame? Did she find out about his involvement with her father? Is she in danger?
Unknowingly Archer also involves the murderer, who appears at first glance to be a bumbling fool, married to someone half his age, trapped in a lifestyle that does not suit him; an individual that immerses himself into his books to leave the real world behind. As a professor of French, Archer enlists the help of Tappinger to try and smoke out whether Martel is a fake. It is only through later conversations with his deflated wife that he realises the deceit. By this time however, it is too late. Martel is not the only person to loss his life at this man’s hands but who will be the last? Why has this intelligent man turned to violence?
The plot of this novel is at times slow but taking into account when it was composed I think it is well written. Today, in order to quicken the plot, chapters would be far shorter and there would probably be more gory descriptions of the murders – Millar almost appears to protect his readers from this; perhaps not wanting them to have nightmares!
A great, quick read novel. If you want to read a ‘nice’ detective novel this is one for you.