Wednesday, May 02, 2012

30. The Doomsters by Ross MacDonald

True to my promise to read more Ross MacDonald, I picked up this early Lew Archer novel (the cover is painfully, stupidly '70s but the book was actually originally published in 1958.  In this one, Archer is woken up by a strapping, well-spoken young man who has snuck into his garage way too early in the morning.  He turns out to be an escapee from the loony bin, with a story to tell about an evil doctor who had him put away.  Archer feels some pity for him but tries to convince him to go back to the institution.  On the driver there, Archer learns that he is from a fairly wealthy family from the agricultural town of Purissima, that his father was a senator and that his brother and wife are conniving to take his share.  It's hard to know how much of it is true, as the kid is pretty wound up and does indeed seem a bit crazy.  At the last moment, just before the gates of the institution, he jumps Archer, knocking him out and stealing his car.

Archer gets involved, driven by sympathy for the young man and some belief that he wasn't entirely wrong in is suspicions.  The reader is introduced to another broken, twisted, hateful California family and the corrupt town that grew up around them.  It's a dark, sordid journey that also goes deep into Lew Archer's own psyche (the reason the young man came to him was because he had escaped with a heroin addict who used to be a protege of Archer's).  MacDonald sometimes tries a bit too hard with the psychologizing and the moralizing, but it's all in aid of a good story and a nasty expose of nasty people.  The bodies really pile up in this one, too!  Good stuff.

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