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...
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