Skip to Content
ublogo print

University at Buffalo Libraries

George Kelley Paperback & Pulp Fiction Collection

The Galton Case

cover image By: Macdonald, Ross (pseudonym of Kenneth Millar) (male)
Publisher: Bantam Books, Inc. (A2059)
Place of Publication: New York, NY
Catalog #: Kelley Box 333: PS3525 .I486 G335 1960
Contributor: J. Lukin


Era: 1950s Author as on Cover: Ross MacDonald Geographic Locale: Southern California, San Francisco and environs; Reno, Nevada; western Ontario Date of Publication: 1960  |  Original Date: 1959 Setting: urban and small town; a wide range of social strata, from the mansions of the rich and miserable to the docks of a northern California fishing community, to the slums of an Ontario town Motives: greed, murder, impersonation, "gaslighting" (framing a sane person for madness)

Plot Summary

Private investigator Lew Archer is called by a lawyer friend to help an old lady track down her estranged son. Neither Archer nor the lawyer is optimistic about the case: the son has been missing for twenty years, and the lady's sudden impulse toward reconciliation seems destined to be thwarted. But clues to the son's fate start popping up in unlikely places, such as the lawyer's manservant's suitcase. And people who might provide leads disappear or die before Archer can confront them. The missing son himself seems to have died, but may have left a son of his own -- in any case, the old lady determines to lavish money and affection upon her supposed grandson. Archer determines to learn whether the boy is an imposter and why the old lawyer is not revealing all that he knows. Multiple impostures, wasted lives, and violent thugs abound as Archer heads toward a surprising resolution of the case in the sun-drenched slums of a small Ontario city.

Major Characters

Lew Archer adult male, middle-aged, people open up to him, intentionally fleshed-out so little that you can't see him when he turns sideways, professional private investigator

Deputy Mungan adult male, huge, strong, in charge of law enforcement in the California town of Luna Bay, hates gangsters

Fred Nelson a.k.a. Nelson Fredericks, a.k.a. Shoulders, adult male, gaunt, dull-witted old thug, former gangster, former car thief, former killer

Gordon Sable adult male, middle-aged, youthful-looking with wavy white hair, affluent attorney skilled at manipulation

Peter Culligan adult male, curly black hair and a chip on his shoulder, butler and confidence man

Maria Galton adult female, elderly, rich widow with a forceful voice and a penetrating, condescending gaze

Sheila Howell adolescent female, 18 years old, wealthy, romantic and willful, doe-eyed and creamy-skinned

John Brown, Jr. a.k.a. John Galton, a.k.a. John Lindsay, a.k.a. Theo, adult male, 20s, dark straight hair, a full mouth, light eyes set far apart, straight nose, an aspiring actor of uncertain origins

Level of Violence

two or three beatings, death by knifing, suicide by hanging. Fatal violence is not depicted; only its consequences. Violence is not glamorized or valorized in any way.


all relationships are heterosexual. Women loyal to good men are revered -- those loyal to bad men aren't blamed. Sexual relations presumably occur but aren't depicted.

Gender Roles

women rarely take active roles except by way of manifesting loyalty to their men. Men are respected for behaving reasonably and with competence. Violent men are objects of pity or contempt. Men who write Beat poetry are objects of mild ridicule.


all the major characters are white people; they are differentiated by class, not ethnic heritage.

Alcohol/Drug Abuse

social drinking is the norm; heavy drinking is contemptible.

Law Enforcement

the majority of law enforcement officials depicted are competent; all are honest.

Subject Headings

Archer, Lew/ California/ Detectives, Private/ Greed

Psychological Elements

everyone presented is sane: criminal behavior is motivated by greed, desperate circumstances, or misguided idealization of the gangster ethic. Some hints of Macdonald's psychoanalytic interests are evident in Theo's Oedipal attitude toward a father-figure in his life.