Tom Aragon is hired by Gilly Decker to find her ex-husband, B. J. Lockwood, who eight years earlier ran off to Mexico with a servant who was pregnant with his son. In the meantime, Gilly remarried but this husband had a stroke almost immediately after they married. From a letter received from B. J. requesting money, Gilly knows that he went to Baja California and got in trouble with a development scheme. Aragon makes two trips to to the small fishing town that B. J. settled in to find out what happened to him or his son.
The story is set in two places, a California town by the ocean, called Santa Felicia in the book, and a small town in Mexico, also on the ocean. Because Millar and her husband, Kenneth Millar (pseudonym of Ross Macdonald) lived in Santa Barbara, California, one can assume that Santa Felicia stands in for Santa Barbara. Because I moved to Santa Barbara only four years after this book was published, it was interesting to think that the city would have been about the same then as when I moved there. The part set in California takes place primarily in the rich woman's home and I have no familiarity with the homes of the rich. There are a lot of them here though.
Millar describes the Santa Ana winds that are common in the summer and the fall in Southern California:
The wind had come up during the night, a santa ana that brought with it sand and dust from the desert on the other side of the mountain. By midmorning the city was stalled as if by a blizzard. People huddled in doorways shielding their faces with scarfs and handkerchiefs. Cars were abandoned in parking lots and here and there news racks had overturned and broken and their contents were blowing down the street, rising and falling like battered white birds.I don't remember any Santa Anas quite that damaging, but they are scary and uncomfortable. And now we always worry that they will cause a wildfire.
Some reviewers suggest that Millar's failure to stick with a series character may have affected the popularity of her books. This book features one of her series characters, Tom Aragon, who is also in two later books. Aragon is a junior member of a law firm and in this book he does detective work for the firm. (I understand that is true of the other books also.)
The majority of the story is centered on Tom Aragon's trips to Mexico, and that was the part I enjoyed most. Gilly requested a bilingual investigator. Aragon grew up in the "barrio on lower Estero Street" and his mother never learned to speak English, so he fits her needs. In my opinion, he is the most fleshed-out character but there are a lot of interesting characters in the book.
This book is my second submission for 1976 for the Crimes of the Century meme at Past Offences.
Publisher: Avon, 1978 (orig. pub. 1976)
Length: 176 pages
Series: Tom Aragon, #1
Setting: Southern California, Mexico
Source: Purchased at the Planned Parenthood book sale, 2014.