When millionaire oilman Ralph Sampson goes missing, his worried wife hires a private detective to track him down. Lew Archer soon discovers, though that what initially seemed a matter of a man on a bender may in fact be a case of kidnapping. As he investigates further, he encounters an eclectic group of individuals connected to Sampson, all of whom are possibly involved in Sampson's disappearance. With the likelihood of finding Sampson alive diminishing with each passing second, Archer races to discover everyone's secrets, even if doing so comes at the cost of his life.
Though The Moving Target was Ross Macdonald's first novel featuring his signature detective Lew Archer, it is the sixth one in the series that I have read. Because of this, it serves as an interesting contrast with the others. Though in some ways a prototype of the future volumes in the series, many of the elements that characterize Macdonald's Archer novels — such as the long-held secrets and connections with seemingly unrelated crimes decades beforehand — are absent from this book. Instead what Macdonald provides is a more straightforward mystery involving a grief-ridden family and the dangerous characters orbiting around them. In this respect it's a refreshing change of pace from the regular patterns that would come to characterize the series, which can grow a little tiresome when read back-to-back. This may explain why I enjoyed the novel as much as I did, even if the book did not possess the virtuosic plotting and character development that would become a hallmark of Macdonald's writing in subsequent years. Once again, variety proves to be the spice of life, even with works of such rare quality as Macdonald's.