The Sixth Commandment Themes
by Lawrence Sanders

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The Sixth Commandment Themes

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Desperate times make for desperate people. Almost everyone in the book does something under pressure that he or she never would have imagined doing otherwise, and there is almost no limit to what characters will do for love, or the possibility of it. We come to discover that even the custodian at Todd's hotel (also named Sam, and perhaps the most upstanding character in the novel) killed a man many years ago, over a woman. Both Sams agree that some women can make a man lose his senses.

Fear of aging is one unifying theme in the novel. Sam Todd breaks up with his older girlfriend just before coming to Coburn, although she is vital and attractive, and he is crazy about her. The difference in their ages simply spooks him, and he essentially fears that her age is cutting years off his life by association. He notes that Telford Thorndecker, like so many older men, has taken a younger second wife as a hedge against mortality, and, at least for a time, it seems to be working for him. Thorndecker is obsessed with defeating the aging process, and as his psychosis is uncovered, Todd comes to realize how the fear of aging and death cause us all to do foolish, hateful things, and to sacrifice our own happiness to the idol of youth. Al Coburn, Ernie Scoggins, and the old man in front of Mary's Church all show some of the desperation of age, with wildly varying degrees of acceptance and wisdom about it, and Sam dreads coming to it himself.