The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

In all the novels in which he appears, Lew Archer is an atypical private eye, for money seems incidental to him, being little more than a means of paying the rent, and he inevitably is emotionally drawn to one or more of his clients, not necessarily sexually, but rather in a sense of kinship with fellow sufferers, for Archer believes that he “sometimes served as a catalyst for trouble, not unwillingly.” A loner who has not fully recovered from the trauma of a long-ago divorce, he looks in his bathroom mirror and comments that “all I could read was my own past, in the marks of erosion under my eyes.” Though he is not obsessed with the past in the way that the others are, it is a living presence and leads him to empathize with those who are its prisoners. Different as he is in this regard from the Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler private eyes that are his predecessors in the genre, Archer is like them in his courting of physical danger, and in this novel he endures the obligatory attack (by Jerry Kilpatrick, with the butt of a gun). He is like them, too, in that women find him attractive: Jean Broadhurst, Ellen Strome, even Elegant, Albert Sweetner’s prostitute. Yet almost everyone in the novel is drawn to Archer, who seemingly solves his case because he learns so much from those who eventually talk freely to him. Above all else Lew Archer is a good listener. When Ellen Strome—soon after they meet for the first time—tells him the story of her affair with Leo years earlier, he comments (as narrator of the novel), “we seemed to be held together by a feeling impersonal but almost as strong as a friendship or a passion. . . . The past was unwinding and rewinding like yarn which the two of us held between us.” The closest relationship that develops, however, is between Lew and Ronny: One of them finds (if only temporarily) the son he never had, and the...

(The entire section is 763 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Lew Archer

Lew Archer, the narrator, a private detective and former police officer who is middle-aged and divorced. Not a typical violent hard-boiled detective, Archer is more a questioner than a doer, humane and sensitive to clients, victims, and even criminals. He works by understanding and analyzing psychological states and family histories rather than by collecting physical evidence.

Jean Broadhurst

Jean Broadhurst, his client, whose son apparently is kidnapped during a visit with his father to his grandmother’s mountain cabin.

Ronny Broadhurst

Ronny Broadhurst, her six-year-old son, who witnesses the death of his father, Stanley, in the same place that Stanley aurally witnessed his own father’s shooting fifteen years earlier.

Stanley Broadhurst

Stanley Broadhurst, Jean’s twenty-seven-year-old, newly estranged husband, Ronny’s father. Stanley was deeply affected as a child by the disappearance of his father, Leo, and has become obsessed with the need to search for him, neglecting his family as a result. He has recently stirred up interest in that search by putting an advertisement in the paper and offering a reward for information about Leo. His murder by pickax at his family’s mountain cabin near the beginning of the novel leads eventually to the discovery that Leo was killed fifteen years earlier in the same place.

Elizabeth Broadhurst

Elizabeth Broadhurst, the wealthy wife of Leo Broadhurst, mother of Stanley, and grandmother of Ronny. A coldhearted daddy’s girl, she is proud of her family’s history. She shot Leo out of jealousy fifteen years earlier and believed that she had killed him.

Leo Broadhurst

Leo Broadhurst, a man who vanished fifteen years earlier, supposedly leaving his family to elope with Ellen Strome Kilpatrick and subsequently deserting her as well. In fact, Leo had been murdered the night before his...

(The entire section is 822 words.)