THE WAY SOME PEOPLE DIE Spoiler Alert
THE ENDING, PART TWO
The Problem of the $30,000
In the last few pages of the book, after Archer has informed Mrs. Lawrence that her daughter has been jailed for multiple homicides, they discover the $30,000 that Herman Speed/Henry Fellows had swindled from Marjorie Fellows to buy the heroin. After giving Mrs. Lawrence the $500 he received from Dowser (no reason is provided), he then engages in the most extraordinary act of charity in the entire canon. He gives her the $30,000 and tells her that it is evidence and that she should either destroy it or let Galley’s lawyer try to use it to make a deal. Mrs. Lawrence doesn’t expressly state she’s going to burn it, but the implication is clear.
Let’s talk about this bizarre decision:
- Archer is being very generous with Marjorie Fellows money. Especially since she helped him when he was in distress, has been nothing but completely honest and candid with him and he expressly agreed to help recover it for her.
- Archer points out that it is evidence in multiple homicide cases and eight lines later advises Mrs. Lawrence to destroy it. The last time I checked, willful destruction of evidence is a serious crime.
- If Mrs. Lawrence reconsiders and uses the money to hire a lawyer, as Archer has suggested (she has little of her own) it increases the chances of a murderer going free, either now or in a few years. At 24, Galley still has a lot of killing and thieving left in her. Apparently Archer feels that her future victims are not his problem.
- If Archer is feeling charitable, there are other potential beneficiaries, even disregarding his legal and honorable obligations to his own client, Marjorie Fellows, such as (1) the young drug addict prostitute Ruth, who will be released from rehab with no means of support except the one she is sitting on, or (2) Mrs. Tarrantine, a blameless character with no money and two dead sons.
Nobody know what to make of Archer’s decision. It is not necessary to the plot and any of the alternatives mentioned above were available. Even the finding of the money was unnecessary. It could have disappeared in any number of places besides the one where it surfaced.
- In The Ross Macdonald Companion, Robert Gale, says that “Archer is paralyzed by more than fatigue.”
- Peter Wolfe talks of getting rid of the “tainted money” as “Godlike charity” This is nonsense. Money is money. It was Marjorie’s despite being stolen for an improper purpose. Charity is about giving away your own money—when you give away someone else’s, the law calls that either conversion or embezzlement.
- Schopen summarizes the situation, “In the final pages, Archer finds himself compromised and compromising, leaving with Galley’s mother a stolen thirty thousand dollars—evidence that her mother ironically plans to use to defend her—at the same time that he acknowledges, ‘I knew that Galley Lawrence was guilty as hell.’”
We have the luxury of examining the development of Macdonald’s writing career in such detail because he made his living with his pen. He could not afford the luxury of writer’s block, of deferring the completion of problematic manuscripts, or walking away from a difficult project in the face of a deadline. We get to see his brilliant ideas as well as all the others.
It is no contradiction to say that Macdonald is writing flawed books better and better each time. In The Way Some People Die, he has shown a deftness at plotting that will only grow stronger. He works his sympathy for the downtrodden into the warp and weft of his plots and makes their misery an organic part of the story. He shows a flair for vivid minor characters. He is learning to restrain Archer from an excess of physicality. Increasingly, Archer will rely on his wits instead of his fists. His use of imagery and metaphor, especially the unbuilt town of Oasis, reveals an increasing mastery of his material.