"Her voice was clear and fresh, but the sickness was there in her laugh, a little clatter of bitterness under the trill," private detective Lew Archer says of his new client. She wants him to find her rich husband, who, it seems, gave his private pilot the slip and went off on his own. Not an unusual occurrence, she explains, but the man has been known to do foolish things when he is drunk and unsupervised. He tends to give things away -- things she that will be hers when he dies.
The case of the missing Ralph Sampson sets the plot in motion in "The Moving Target", the first book in Ross MacDonald's series featuring Lew Archer. Copyrighted in 1949, the book contains all of the elements of the classic tough guy, PI genre of the period. Characters include Sampson's beautiful daughter who seems to be in love with his handsome, indifferent pilot; the family attorney, an old friend of Archer's, who seems to be in love with the daughter; a shady nightclub owner; his movie actress wife, whose star has almost faded; an attractive has-been pianist; and a strange "spiritual" advisor, who lives on the mountain Sampson gave him. There are guns, fist fights, beatings, uncooperative cops, and mysterious chauffeurs. There are Archer's thoughts on life and things that shout there is more going on than first meets the eye (so to speak).
All of this makes for an enjoyable read that is somewhat reminiscent of John D. MacDonald and echoes Raymond Chandler. This is not the best book in the series, but it is the place to start reading the Archer books and a good read -- even if at least one of the bad guys seems pretty evident to the reader before Archer seems to tumble to him.