BLUE CITY Spoiler Alert
THE PLOT IS REBOOTING. THIS IS GOING TO TAKE A FEW MINUTES . . .
For a book primarily remembered for its action and violence, the explanation is complicated even by the standards of Ross Macdonald. Below is my bare-bones summary of what happens just in Francie’s apartment, omitting the other events of the chapter.
- Francie insists that Weather call the police, on the strength of the letter confessing to the murder.
- Allister claims it is false and that he was forced to write it at gunpoint. As a lawyer, he makes a number of technical arguments why the letter is not admissible.
- Allister admits to shooting Kersch but says it was self-defense.
- Allister denies killing Garland. He and Francie argue about, if she testifies against him, how she is admitting that she is an accessory.
- Francie mentions that she knows that Allister stole the gun that her brother stole from Kauffman’s pawn shop. This is the gun used to kill Weather’s father.
- Feelings are running high in the room and Weather succeeds in getting Francie to go into the other room. He is unsuccessful in getting her to surrender the gun. If you have a bad feeling about this last development, you would be right.
- When Allister tried for a commission after Pearl Harbor, he was rejected on psychiatric grounds. (Evidently the standard of mental competence is higher if your work involves killing people rather than merely representing them).
- When his wife learned of his mental health diagnosis she refused him sexually due to her fear that any children might inherit the father’s mental illness. (Allister thinks that a lot of what happened is therefore her fault and I’m not certain Macdonald disagrees.) At a minimum, this is placed to explain why Allister had a relationship with Francie.
- Allister, who was the District Attorney at the time, tried to reform the police but the people in power, including Weather’s father, squelched his report on corruption.
- Allister then attempted to run for city council but Weather’s father, and others, manipulated the election against him.
- The next year, when Allister ran for mayor, Weather’s father came into possession of the love letters between Allister and Francie. Allister knew that the senior Weather was about to publish them.
- Allister shot the senior Weather to prevent the publication of the letters.
- However, Garland and Rusty, acting on instructions from Kersch, were setting up their own assassination attempt. Garland saw Allister shoot the senior Weather.
- Just so we are clear, it was in Kersch’s interest to have the senior Weather dead because then Weather’s widow/Kerch’s wife would inherit his property.
- Kersch blackmailed Allister, not only with the love letters to Francie, but also with the letter Allister was forced to write confessing to the Weather murder.
- The reason Allister did not intervene after Weather called was that he was happy enough to have Sault dead, since Sault could trace the murder weapon to Allister. And Allister was not about to cross Kersch anyway, as long as Kersch had the letters.
- It was only when Weather told Allister about the location of the letters that Allister was free to act. Which he did, killing Garland because Garland was the only eyewitness.
- Although neither Kersch nor Francie were eyewitnesses to the murder of the senior Weather, each of them knew enough to make a strong case against Allister, so both of them needed to die. This explains his presence at Francie’s apartment. What it does not explain is why Allister interrupted his primary business with her long enough to be drawn into the argument that Weather overheard.
- Poor Carla was shot, not because she knew anything, but as an item of collateral damage in the course of killing Kersch.
- While Weather is telephoning the police, Francie shoots Allister. She claims self-defense but I suspect she could see no other way of terminating the exposition.
A good choice
Macdonald gave us many possibilities who might be behind the murder of the senior Weather. His solution is very satisfying. Allister’s decision to solve his political problems with a gun has plausibility. It’s too bad that Macdonald did not have enough self-confidence at this stage of his career to give us some foreshadowing about Allister’s martial problems and his frustrated political ambitions. Some background would have made the exposition shorter and the reveal easier to accept and we wouldn’t have guessed.
Bestowing the talents of a marksman on Garland is a marvelous piece of indirection!
And we’re not done yet—having discovered the identity of the murderer, we still have to discuss the ending.