The Blue Hammer

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Long ago, I dumped all the Lew Archer novels written by Ross Macdonald (the pen name of Kenneth Millar) onto my to-be-read pile. (In that case: the to-be-reread pile). That's a slow-motion process. There are 18 of them. I checked off the first 15 of them by 2004, reading the last three in 2008, 2012, and this final one, 1976's The Blue Hammer, just now.

This last story finds private investigator Lew short on wisecracks and long on melancholy. He's been summoned to a copper magnate's mansion in the hills above Santa Teresa to find a missing painting of a beautiful, also naked, woman. It was possibly painted by Richard Chantry who disappeared from Santa Teresa twenty-five years previous. The plot rapidly gets complex: the magnate, his wife, and Chantry himself all knew each other in Arizona decades ago. If you're an Archer fan, you'll already guess that there were shady things going on back then that nobody wants to talk about, but that Archer must diligently uncover.

There are a bewildering array of characters: the magnate's drug-addled daughter; her earnest art-student boyfriend who seems obsessed with Chantry; the boyfriend's alcoholic dad and belligerent mom; the shady art dealer who sold the painting; Chantry's widow, also relocated from Arizona to Santa Teresa; the newspaper society reporter who senses an important story. And many more. You may want to take notes as you go, maybe draw up a family tree.

Kenneth Millar wrote this as he was descending into Alzheimer's, but it doesn't really show. (There are apparently some contradictions in the text, and more ironed out in editing.) He died at age 67 in 1983, before it was common to continue a popular character using another author. I guess I'm OK with that.