1950. Maude Slocum opens this tale at the doorway to Lew Archer’s office. “Thirty-five and still in the running,” the detective surmises. Maude is scared. She’s intercepted a letter to her husband calling him a cuckold. Who would send such a letter and why? She hires Archer to find out.
Archer drives north of LA to the fictitious community of Quinto, next to the oil town of Nopal, where the Slocums live on property awash in oil. Slocum’s mother-in-law refuses to let the big oil company ruin her land by drilling. The Slocums and their daughter live with old Mrs Slocum. Only Mr Slocum seems happy with the arrangement.
Archer attends a party at the Slocums where family and friends celebrate the opening of a local play starring Mr Slocum. That night old Mrs Slocum turns up drowned at the bottom of the swimming pool. It could be an accident, but the old woman never went to the pool alone.
Suspects are the son and daughter-in-law of course because they stand to gain the most from opening up the land to drilling. But a chauffeur has gone missing and his hat was found near the pool.
Archer’s investigation takes him on a tour of the Slocum family estate, of the underbelly of the neighboring boom town, and of the extravagant lifestyle of the oil company owner. This is not the 1950’s of Jerry Mathers as the Beave.
An early work by Macdonald and maybe his best.