“IT’S ALL ONE CASE”
This quote from Macdonald reminds us of how he viewed his mature fiction. It was more than a matter of economy. In his best work, everything is related. Diversions and dead ends are not what they seem; they only appear unrelated because Archer doesn’t yet appreciate the full picture. As chaotic as his plots sometimes appear, they are always geometrical. And the figure is not a straight line but a circle.
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
T. S. Eliot
This moment in The Galton Case is a good time to discuss this point. Archer’s job is to look for Anthony Galton. It so happens that Archer stumbles into the murder of Sable’s houseman. There is absolutely no reason to think initially that the two are connected—and yet Archer, after the briefest of conversations with Sable, starts investigating the recent murder and lets the Galton case slide.
Macdonald deliberately keeps the conversation with Sable down to a bare minimum, only a few lines. He doesn’t want the reader to linger over the change in direction. Because although Archer doesn’t know it yet, it’s not a change in direction at all.
Welcome to San Mateo
Chapter Seven, which takes us from the crime scene to San Mateo, beings with Archer’s observation, “I hate coincidences.” Which is one of the most ironic things Macdonald ever wrote. As we have noted, Schopen criticized the book on precisely this ground, that “coincidence plays a huge part in the novel.” Of course, Schopen goes on to admit that Macdonald is gifted enough to get away with it.
Since Culligan’s ex wife was thoughtful enough to include not only her married name but her husband’s first name in her letter, Archer is able to locate her in the phone book. And of course she is home, is free to meet with Archer at the airport, and lives only fifteen minutes away. She is only ten minutes late. I am reminded of the old song, “If I Knew You Were Coming I’d Have Baked a Cake.”
The conversation with the victim’s ex wife is brilliantly presented. She is well dressed and wearing makeup (presumably the reason for the extra ten minutes) but her hands reveal a lifetime of hard work and her speech and mannerisms coarsen under pressure. The traces of the woman who used to be with a tough like Culligan are just under the surface.
Archer gets some useful information before she bolts.
- Culligan was indeed a shady character, mixed up with gambling and frauds.
- When she was married to Culligan she was a nurse—she met him when he was in a San Francisco hospital after a gang fight.
- She admits that she once had a nursing job as a practical nurse in Luna Bay, an imaginary town 25 to 30 miles from San Francisco.
- She claims not to know the names “Anthony Galton” or “John Brown,” but immediately after denying it, she runs out.
The Circle Back to Luna Bay
Archer has another lead, the 1936 copy of the magazine in which “John Brown” published the “Luna Bay” poem. He tracks down the former editor, Chad Bolling, at a poetry reading/performance art piece at a dingy nightclub.
Bolling remembers John Brown.
- Near Christmas of 1936 he visited Brown and his wife at their home in Luna Bay; Bolling remembers it was around Christmas because he brought a small toy for Brown’s baby son.
- That was the last time he saw Brown.
- Brown had come to Luna Bay to work on a novel. He was very concerned about his privacy and told Bolling not to tell anyone he was there.
- The house was in disorder but the Browns were not destitute; they could afford a nurse to help with the baby.
- Bolling is unable to confirm that the nurse was named Marian Culligan, although he clearly remembers that when he arrived at the house, Mrs. Brown was nursing and that she had lovely white breasts. Can’t remember her name. (And not a very helpful clue, either.)
But Bolling has more to offer; although he says he can’t describe where the house was, he offers to try to lead Archer to the spot the next day.
Next stop, Luna Bay.