“A RATHER HOPELESS CASE”
In his study, Sable outlines the task to Archer:
- Sable represents Maria Galton, the matriarch of the Galton family, now 73, widowed, and in poor health. (Fun fact—according to Michael Kreyling, the family name came from Sir Francis Galton, a Victorian scientist who believed strongly in the inheritability of human traits and founded the eugenics movement.)
- Galton is incalculably wealthy.
- Her only son, Anthony Galton, disappeared in 1936. Full stop. 1936. Even though the book is set in about 1958, this is a very cold case, especially for a private investigator with no police resources.
- Anthony was not reported as a missing person at the time and there has never been any police investigation.
- Galton was 21 years old at the time of his disappearance, having just left Stanford.
- Anthony Galton left the family home on bad terms. He had just married a girl whom the family disapproved of.
- Galton’s wife was pregnant when they married.
- No one has seen or heard anything from them since, and it is only Mrs. Galton’s fear of imminent death that is spurring the search at all.
- Sable makes it clear that Archer must treat this matter in the strictest confidence and asks that he devote his entire time to the matter in light of Mrs. Galton’s precarious health. When Archer asks why Sable didn’t select a major agency with more resources for a high priority investigation, Sable is evasive, except to say that he trusts Archer.
As Sable is walking out with Archer, they have an encounter with Mrs. Sable. She is drunk and full of self-pity saying that no one likes her out here and she was better off back in Chicago. The reader tends to agree.
The Galton Estate
By this stage of his career, Macdonald has mastered the art of telling a story economically. When Archer and Sable arrive on the estate grounds two women are playing badminton on the front lawn, both of whom will figure into the story. We get two new characters and a description of the property for the price of our attention to a single page.
- The older one, probably about 40, is Cassie Hildreth, a distant, poor relation to the Galton family who is employed as a sort of personal assistant to Mrs. Galton. Cassie had a crush on Anthony Galton years ago, but he ignored her. She is the Passed-Over Woman of the tale.
- The younger girl, barely 18, is Sheila Howell, the daughter of the family doctor August Howell, and she and her father are on close terms with the family. She draws the Innocent But Eager Virgin job. (The shortness of life prevents me from detailing examples of these types from previous books. But trust me—these roles have been a staple of multiple Lew Archer novels already. Misunderstood, lonely, and sexually unavailable women exist in some form in almost every book he wrote.)
Dr. Howell and Archer meet while they are waiting to see Mrs. Galton. Their conversation is evidence of Kreyling’s conclusion that Macdonald’s selection of the family name was no fluke. Dr. Howell is steeped in a genetic outlook on life—according to him, Anthony failed to inherit the Galton “characteristics,” by which he means that Anthony was interested in what we would now call social justice rather than running the family business.
Archer gets the following specific information.
- Anthony Galton’s life was oriented towards running with a rough crowd in San Francisco. He fancied himself “a man of the people.” Unfortunately for him, the people did not reciprocate.
- Galton’s bride was from a rough background herself and was ill-educated. When Dr. Howell examined her there was evidence of old beatings that she would not discuss but presumably did not come from Anthony.
- The doctor can remember little of her physical appearance, except that she was thin (considering her pregnancy) blue-eyed, and brunette.
While the three are waiting to see Mrs. Galton, the conversation between the doctor and the lawyer takes an odd turn. It is not clear who is driving the bus. Presumably the doctor and the lawyer are working together on Mrs. Galton’s behalf, but the doctor expresses puzzlement about why she wants the investigation after all these years. Sable claims to have no idea where the idea came from. When the doctor speculates that Cassie Hildreth may have planted the idea, Sable offers to find out.
It’s Chapter Three, page 15, and it’s time to meet Mrs. Galton.