The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Lew Archer is both the narrator of the novel and its conscience. While almost every other character engages in posturing and duplicity, Archer is forthright and honest, in pursuit of the truth for its own sake and to right a series of wrongs. Even when dismissed from the case by a disaffected client, he continues his probing. Almost everyone else may want money (indeed, it is the impetus behind many of the crimes), but “Not me,” he says. “Money costs too much.”

Despite his modest background, Archer is comfortable among the wealthy, and all sorts of people take him into their confidence and speak frankly to him, albeit grudgingly in some cases. (Says Mrs. Shepherd at the end of their first meeting: “I’m talking too much myself, bringing the past back to life.”) Perhaps people open up to him because he is such a good listener, or maybe because he obviously is a lonely man, still sad over his long-ago divorce, and thus sensitive toward others who are similarly lonely or whose marriages are in trouble. In this book, as elsewhere, he has a brief affair with one such woman but is unwilling to become involved in a lasting relationship; though sensitive to others, he is the quintessential loner. (He says: “I like to move into people’s lives and then move out again.”) That fleeting passion is with Moira Smitheram, who earlier had been unfaithful to her psychiatrist husband (with Larry Chalmers, while Smitheram was in the Pacific during World War II) and was an unhappy wife in subsequent years as her husband became more interested in his career and less in his wife. The marriage endured primarily because of her need for social and financial security and his awareness that she knew all the secrets of his connections with the Chalmerses.

The character whose personality is closest to Archer’s is attorney John Truttwell, for he, like the...

(The entire section is 766 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Lew Archer

Lew Archer, the narrator, a Los Angeles private detective called in to investigate what seems to be a minor theft in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Larry Chalmers in the wealthy (fictitious) town of Pacific Point. Archer’s investigation uncovers a web of intrigue and changed identities leading back to the shooting death of Eldon Swain fifteen years earlier. By the time the investigation is finished, two more people have been murdered, a man has been killed by the police, the sinister histories of the Chalmers and Swain families have been revealed, and the murderer, Larry Chalmers, has committed suicide. Archer’s persistence and his refusal to be diverted from his investigation by his affair with Moira Smitheram lead to the revelations and what seems to be a healing conclusion for the troubled younger characters, Nick Chalmers and Betty Truttwell.

Lawrence (Larry) Chalmers

Lawrence (Larry) Chalmers, a wealthy man, supposedly a veteran of World War II. In fact, he was discharged after very brief service because of his mental instability. He supposedly inherited wealth from his mother and has never worked. Despite his apparent love for his son, Nick, it becomes clear that he and his wife are responsible for most of the violence that has made Nick neurotic and suicidal. Larry and Irene had stolen money that her former lover, Eldon Swain, had embezzled, and they had killed John Truttwell’s wife when she recognized them. Later, Swain had kidnapped Nick (in fact, his son and not Larry’s), and when he was killed, his identity had been covered up by the Chalmers couple. The money Swain embezzled is the fortune that...

(The entire section is 683 words.)