This was the last Lew Archer novel by Ross Macdonald. Published in 1976 it takes place in California with a little jaunt over to Arizona. Private detective Archer is hired to recover a stolen painting and return it to its rightful owners. Sounds simple enough but the case soon turns deadly. What follows is a complicated and rather confusing crime drama which will involve four murders, fratricide, thievery, blackmail, a cult (in a very minor role to be sure), kidnapping, stolen identities and generally bad behavior by many individuals. Lew has a tough time trying to piece it all together and to complicate things further he falls for a dame.
Macdonald (real name Kenneth Millar, 1915-1983) is an excellent writer and he holds this twisting plot together brilliantly. Written in the first person, Archer is quite likeable, a tough guy but very human, hardboiled but compassionate. He's getting older and ruminates a lot. There is actually very little violence (the murders all take place away from Archer) and Lew spends more time trying to stop fights than start them. The cast of characters is quite colorful and all are well drawn. While it is a little hard to keep track of everybody, and their relationship to each other, Macdonald (via Archer) manages, after a few more twists, to lay it all out for you in the end.