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Last Updated on February 25, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1241

Victor “Vic” Van Allen

Victor Van Allen, the protagonist, is a fascinating but repulsive antihero. His jealousy over his wife’s infidelities spurs him to homicide. Unable to feel guilt, Vic tries to hide his feelings and focuses on a complex contest of wills with his wife, who is determined to expose him as a murderer. Although devoted to their daughter, Vic prioritizes punishing Melinda. Age thirty-six, Vic is somewhat short and pudgy and has intelligent blue eyes and short brown hair. Vic is the owner of a small publishing company named Greenspur Press. Vic spends long hours at the press and is very proud of its high-quality work and outstanding reputation. Along with growing herbs, his more unusual hobbies include raising bed bugs and snails.

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Melinda Van Allen

Melinda Van Allen, who is about thirty years old, has long, dark-blond hair, green-brown eyes, and slightly freckled skin. So tall that she always wears flats, she has a firm body, “Amazonian strength,” and “animal vitality.” Vic likens his courtship of the rebellious young woman to taming a horse. Melinda is a heavy drinker, an inattentive mother to Trixie, and a careless homemaker; she is also resistant to Vic’s efforts to curtain her freedom. Fond of music and dancing, she scorns Vic’s hobbies and assertions of superior intellect. In her attitude towards other men, Melinda is not merely flirtatious; she thrives on men’s attention, and over the past three years, she has had multiple affairs. She becomes convinced that Vic killed two of her lovers.

Beatrice Van Allen

Beatrice Van Allen, called Trixie, is Victor and Melinda’s six-year-old daughter. She has her mother’s coloring and stubborn temperament but her father’s intellect. Victor both spoils and educates her, while Melinda pays her little attention. Trixie, who began reading at age three, enjoys Scrabble and is elated when her father gets her a puppy. She attends Highland School, where she sings in the choir. Vic worries that she has grown too accustomed to her mother’s boyfriends and their gifts.

The Mellers

Horace and Mary Meller, a married couple residing Little Wesley, are part of the Van Allens’ social circle. They stand by Vic as the rumors circulate. Horace repeatedly urges Vic, whom he considers his best friend, to take a firmer stance against Melinda’s behavior. A cautious, slightly built man, Horace works as a laboratory chemist. At parties, Mary Meller often drinks and flirts with Vic. Dismissing the rumors about his killing McRae, she defends Vic as sweet and “unmysterious.”

The Cowans

Phil and Evelyn Cowan, a married couple, are Little Wesley residents and friends of the Van Allens. Their house has a swimming pool. Phil is an economics professor who is writing a book, and they throw a party to celebrate his progress. Evelyn is an enthusiastic gardener.

The Wilsons

Don Wilson and his wife, June, are recent arrivals in Little Wesley who move to another town after just a few months because of Don’s unpopular allegations against Vic. Don writes novels, such as detective stories, while June writes children’s stories. After condemning Vic’s joke about the McRae murder, Don urges everyone to believe that Vic killed Charles De Lisle. June, a petite blonde, is embarrassed and apologetic about his theories.

Brian Ryder

Brian Ryder, an instructor at Bard College, comes to stay with the Van Allens to confer with Vic about Greenspur Press’s upcoming publication of his poems. The “pleasant, intense young man” with Tarzan-like physique admires Vic, but Melinda captivates him, and he writes her a poem.

The Hines

Stephen Hines is the printer at the Greenspur Press. He and his wife, Georgianne, are a happy couple with one son. In August, Georgianne gives birth prematurely to another boy. Vic is impressed with Stephen’s meticulous, painstaking work and considers him indispensable. 


Caryle, a sixty-year-old recovering alcoholic, is the driver, mail handler, janitor, and handyman at Greenspur Press. He was a homeless panhandler on the streets of Little Wesley until Vic gave him a job.

The Petersons

Janey Peterson is Trixie’s best friend. The girls sometimes sleep over at each other’s houses. Her parents are Katherine and Charles. Janey’s mother usually watches Trixie when her parents go out. Charles is an electrical engineer in a leather factory. He is a pleasant, frank, strongly built man of whom Vic thinks very highly. Vic converses with them at Trixie’s music recital the day of Cameron’s death.

The MacPhersons

George and Jennie MacPherson, a married couple in their fifties, are members of the Van Allens’ social circle. George is an ineffectual heavy drinker who retired early. Jennie, who is tall and sturdy with a broad, fat face, inherited money from her wealthy father.

Dr. Franklin

Dr. Franklin, a physician in Little Wesley, is called to the Cowans’ when De Lisle drowns,  and he gives evidence at the inquest. The spry, serious, gray-haired man delivered Trixie. He thinks well of Victor and disdains Melinda, who complained constantly about him after Trixie’s delivery.

Harold Carpenter

Harold Carpenter, professing to be a psychology graduate student, is a private detective whom Melinda hires. Vic figures out his identity and has him dismissed.

Pete Havermal

Pete Havermal is a New York detective that Tony’s client hires to investigate his disappearance.

Joel Nash

Joel Nash, one of Melinda’s latest lovers when the novel begins, is frightened off by Vic’s joke about killing McRae. Joel is a traveling chemical salesman spending a few weeks at the company headquarters in Wesley. The boyishly handsome Joel has round cheeks, regular features, and wavy, light-brown hair.

Ralph Gosden

Ralph Gosden has been Melinda’s lover for several months when the novel begins. A handsome, blue-eyed, trim man with red-blond hair, the twenty-nine-year-old Gosden is a moderately talented portrait painter. He frequently dines at the Van Allens’ home, and Melinda visits his studio to model for her portrait. When Vic frightens him with his “joke” about killing McRae, Ralph spreads the story through his friends the Wilsons.

Malcolm McRae

Malcolm McRae, whom Victor suspects was Melinda’s lover, was an advertising executive. He was a tall, slender man whom women found fascinating; but men, such as Victor, resented his superior attitude. When the novel begins, he is already dead, and the police had not learned who killed him in his New York apartment. They later identify his murderer as the brother of a former lover.

Larry Osbourne

Larry Osbourne, Melinda’s first lover, was a young horseback riding instructor. The six-month-long affair began when Trixie was two years old.

Jo-Jo Harris

Jo-Jo Harris was Melinda’s lover after Osbourne. She was with him for three months. Victor describes him as a “rather hyperthyroidal young man.” Jo-Jo ran a record shop in Wesley until it went out of business.

Charles De Lisle

Charles De Lisle becomes Melinda’s lover after Ralph. He is the new summer pianist at the Lord Chesterfield, and he also plays at Hotel Lincoln in Ballinger. Possibly Italian or another type of “Latin,” he is swarthy, slight, scrawny, of medium height, and has dark, brilliantined hair. He becomes Vic’s first murder victim.

Anthony Cameron

Anthony Cameron is a contractor working around Little Wesley. A heavy, square-faced man with dark, wavy hair, Tony plays the clarinet and talks nonstop. After they begin an affair, Melinda threatens to divorce Vic and move with Tony to Mexico, where he will have his next assignment. He becomes Vic’s second murder victim.

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