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"An entertainment of almost Byzantine complexity in which practically nothing is as the facts would seem. . . . Highly satisfactory." --The New Yorker
"Lew Archer . . . is a crime-fighter of the old school; painstakingly searching out the twisting thread of suspense that leads him from the hint of one complicated drama to another." --Christian Science Monitor
"We were trying to work out a plan to live by. a set of rules for our marriage and our children. The main thing for Dolly was the children. She wanted to bring them up to be real people. She thought it was more important to be an honest individual than to have security and worldly possessions and so on. I don't want to bore you with all this."
"You're not. I take it she was completely sincere?"
"Nobody was ever more sincere. I mean it. She actually wanted me to give up my job and go back and finish my M.A. She didn't think I should take money from my family. She was willing to go on working to help me through. But we decided against that plan, when we made up our minds to get married."
"It wasn't a forced marriage?"
He looked at me stonily. "There was nothing like that be-tween us. As a matter of fact we didn't even--I mean, I didn't touch her on our wedding night. The Surf House and Pacific Point seemed to get on her nerves, even though she was the one who wanted to come here. So we decided to postpone the physical bit. A lot of couples do that nowadays."
"How does Dolly feel about sex?"
"Fine. We talked about it very frankly. If you think she left me because she's afraid of it, you're way off the beam. She's a warm person.
"Why did she leave you, Alex?"
His eyes clouded with pain, which had scarcely left them. "I haven't been able to figure it out. It wasn't anything between me and Dolly, I'm sure of that. The man with the beard must have had something to do with it."
"How does he get into the picture?"
"He came to the hotel that afternoon--the day she left. I was down on the beach having a swim, andafterward I went to sleep in the sun. I must have been away from the room for a couple of hours. She was gone, bag and baggage, when I got back. The desk clerk told me she had this visitor before she left, a man with a short gray beard who stayed in the room about an hour."
"He didn't mention his name."
"Did he and your wife leave together?"
"The desk clerk said they didn't. The man left first. Then Dolly took a taxi to the bus station, but so far as I could find out she didn't buy a ticket. She didn't buy a railroad ticket or an airline ticket, either. She had no car. So I've been going on the assumption that she's still here in Pacific Point. She couldn't walk down the freeway."
"She could hitchhike."
"Where did she live before you were married?"
"In Westwood, in a furnished apartment. She gave it up and we moved her typewriter and things into my apartment on Saturday morning just before the ceremony. All the stuff is still there, and it's one of the things that worry me. I've been over it with a fine-toothed comb for clues, but she didn't leave any behind--nothing really personal at all."
"Do you think she planned to marry you and leave you?"
"No, I don't. What would be the point?"
"I can think of several possibilities. Do you carry much insurance, for example?"
"A fair amount. Dad insured me when I was born. But he's still the beneficiary."
"Does your family have money?"
"Not that much. Dad makes a good living, but he works for it. Anyway, what you're hinting at is out of the question. Dolly's completely honest, and she doesn't even care about money."
"What does she care about?"
"I thought she cared about me," he said with his head down. "I still believe she does. Something must have happened to her. She may have gone out of her mind."
"Is she mentally unstable?"
He considered the question, and his answer to it. "I don't think so. She had her black spells. I guess most people do. I was talking loosely."
"Keep on talking loosely. You can't tell what may be important. You've been making a search for her, of course?"
"As much of a search as I could. But I can't do it all by myself, without any cooperation from the police. They write down what I say on little pieces of paper and put them away in a drawer and give me pitying looks. They seem to think Dolly found out something shameful about me on our wedding night."
"Could there be any truth in that?"
"No! We're crazy about each other. I tried to tell that to the Sheriff this morning. He gave me one of those knowing leers and said he couldn't act unless there was some indication of a breach of the peace. I asked him if a missing woman wasn't some indication, and he said no. She was free and twenty-one and she left under her own power and I had no legal right to force her to come back. He advised me to get an annulment. I told him what he could do with his advice, and he ordered two of his men to throw me out of his office. I found out where the deputy D.A. was, in court, and I was waiting to put in a complaint when I saw you on the stand."
"Nobody sent you to me, then?"
"No, but I can give you references. My father--"
"You told me about your father. He thinks you should get an annulment, too."
Alex nodded dolefully. "Dad thinks I'm wasting my time, on a girl who isn't worth it."
"He could be right."
"He couldn't be more wrong. Dolly is the only one I've ever loved and the only one I ever will love. If you won't help me, I'll find somebody who will."
I liked his insistence. "My rates are high. A hundred a day and expenses."
"rye got enough to pay you for at least a week." He reached for his billfold and slammed it down on the bar, so hard that the bartender looked at him suspiciously. "Do you want a cash advance?"
"There's no hurry," I said. "Do you have a picture of Dolly?" He removed a folded piece of newspaper from the billfold and handed it to me with a certain reluctance, as if it was more valuable than money. It was a reproduction of a photograph which had been unfolded and refolded many times.
"Among happy honeymooners at the Surf House," the caption said, "are Mr. and Mrs. Alex Kincaid of Long Beach." Alex and his bride smiled up at me through the murky light. Her face was oval and lovely in a way of its own, with a kind of hooded intelligence in the eyes and humor like a bittersweet taste on the mouth.
"When was this taken?"
"Three weeks ago Saturday, when we arrived at the Surf House. They do it for everybody. They printed it in the Sunday morning paper, and I clipped it. I'm glad I did. It's the only picture I have of her."
"You could get copies."
"From whoever took it."
"I never thought of that. I'll see the photographer at the hotel about it. How many copies do you think I should ask him for?"
"Two or three dozen, anyway. It's better to have too many than too few."
"That will run into money. "I know, and so will I."
"Are you trying to talk yourself out of a job?"
"I don't need the work, and I could use a rest.
"To hell with you then."
He snatched at the flimsy picture between my fingers. It tore across the middle. We faced each other like enemies, each of us holding a piece of the happy honeymooners.
Alex burst into tears.
Posted July 17, 2002
A few critics rate this novel a masterpiece and, this time at least, the critics are right. MacDonald is an excellent writer and though he has a bizarre plot, he executes it brilliantly. Unlike most mystery stories today featuring Spenser, the Louisiana cop Dave whatshisname or others, MacDonald's plot is both suspensful and realistic. When other plots are manipulative or hokey, or just plain don't make sense, the characters and events here are real. MacDonalds leads the reader slowly and inexorably to the conclusion that packs a wallop. As usually, there is some beautiful writing but it doesn't get in the way of the story.
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Posted August 2, 2012
One of the best stories told in a mystery/crime novel that I have read. I did not get a really suspensful feeling, but it was masterful storytelling and did have realistic characters.
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