The Blue Hammer

by Ross Macdonald
Knopf, $7.95
Most mystery writers merely write about crime. Ross Macdonald writes about sin. In The Blue Hammer, the reluctant detective Lew Archer is hired to find a missing painting. On the way to a solution, he encounters pervasive treachery, deceit, Oedipal intrigues, and of course murder-some corpses fresh and others long since buried by deft liars-all related to the disappearance many years ago of an illustrious artist.
Lew Archer’s trademark is his contempt for his wealthy clients, the robber barons of Southern California, and the unsavory means by which they have acquired their wealth. Biemeyer, the man who unwillingly pays Archer’s hundreda-day, is a retired copper mining executive. His money comes from a hideous gash in the Arizona earth and has gone into constructing an equally hideous California mansion that looks to Archer “more like a public building than a house—the kind of place where you go to pay your taxes or get a divorce.” A cold home for a cold marriageBiemeyer’s wife hires Archer to unravel a mystery that Biemeyer himself wants left unsolved.
The plot is an ingenious one. If the solution strains credibility somewhat, Macdonald can be forgiven. He is such a master of cynicism that he can make any degree of guilt and willful ignorance seem plausible.
-A. H.