Richard Strout is the man who kills Matt Fowler's son, Frank. The story opens with the Fowler family laying Frank to rest and upset that Strout is out walking the streets on bail. With this information, the reader may first feel upset to hear that a murderer is not in jail, as well as a sense unfairness for the Fowlers. The flashbacks, though, give insight to Strout's past as an all-American boy: football player, scholarship to University of Massachusetts, construction worker, husband and father of two sons. Fowler describes what the community thought of these images when the murder got around town, as follows:
". . . those who simply knew him by face and name, had a series of images of him which they recalled when they heard of the killing: the high school running back, the young drunk in bars, the oblivious hard-hatted young man eating lunch at a counter, the bartender who could perhaps be called courteous but not more than that."
The reader might have an empathetic attitude towards Richard at this point because of how average he is--simply living out his normal daily. On the other hand, a reader might feel that he lives a cold life--unadventurous and boring.
The part that may change the reader's attitude from apathy for Richard to empathy is the fact that he has a wife and two children:
". . . near the bedroom door, hung a color photograph of Mary Ann and the two boys sitting on a law. . . Mary Ann smiling at the camera or Strout or whoever held the camera. . . was that when they were both playing around and she was smiling like that at him and they were happy, even sometimes, making it worth it?"
As more and more facts about Strout come to light, the whole story becomes more depressing. Strout, a man who had a family and everything to lose, kills Fowler's son because he was messing around with his estranged wife. For the reader, Strout evolves from a cold-blooded killer at the beginning of the story to a sad and jealous husband who made an insane choice to kill Frank.