THINGS GO SIDEWAYS
To Live and Die in LA
Archer asks Bess whether she was involved in the killing of Heiss, but before she can answer, Sylvia faints in her hiding place and the noise interrupts their conversation. When Archer goes to check on her, Bess takes the opportunity to pick up the money and head for the door. Archer tells her to wait, that they are not finished. She ignores him.
When Bess opens the door, Una is waiting in the hallway and shoots her dead. (Una was afraid Bess would confess everything to Archer and her fears were confirmed when Archer answered his phone in the office at nearly ten in the evening.)
Archer shoots Una, killing her with a single shot.
Bella City is No Prize, Either
The final chapter takes place in Dr. Benning’s office.
Benning placed Singleton’s skeleton in the furnace but Archer interrupts him before the heat can destroy the bones.
Dr. Benning says that Bess had told him that she had shot Singleton, to motivate him to try to save the man and avoid a murder charge for her. Archer tells him the truth.
Benning is a smart man and tells several lies and evasions. He initially says that Singleton’s death was an accident but when Archer suggests that it would have been easy for him to let the scalpel slip in Singleton’s bowels, he observes, “My enemy was delivered into my hands.”
- Archer says that it was Benning who killed Lucy; that when she had come to see him, asking for money to keep her from going to the Singleton family, he stole her motel room key from her purse as an insurance policy to make sure she left town with the money he had provided her.
- Benning let himself into her room and waited. When Lucy returned to her room it was only to claim her bags but Benning assumed she had decided to stay and killed her.
- Archer says that Benning also killed Heiss after Heiss found Singleton’s car in the barn and demanded money for his silence.
- As Archer pointed out, dressing Heiss in Singleton’s clothes and burning him in Singleton’s car seemed like a good way of accounting for the disappearance but it also had the effect of letting Bess know what Benning had done.
- When Bess realized Benning had killed Heiss, she fled despite her earlier promise to stay if he treated Singleton.
Benning asks for an opportunity to commit suicide but Archer takes him to the police instead. The last line:
“He started down the veranda steps, his short black shadow dragging and jerking at his heels.”
We Add Yet More Distorted Relationships to the Canon
In the world of Ross Macdonald, personal relationships, especially marriages, are often not what they seem.
- In The Dark Tunnel, we have a son blackmailing his father and attempting to kill his sister.
- In Trouble Follows Me, we have a wife pretending not to know her husband and having an affair with the protagonist.
- The Three Roads offers a fiancée who helps her affianced escape responsibility for murdering his first wife.
- In Blue City a woman lusts openly after her stepson.
- The Moving Target offers a plethora of dysfunctional relationships—a wife who does not act as a wife towards her husband; a husband and father who has abandoned both roles; a daughter who desires a man who is uninterested in her; and a trusted family confidant who abuses his position of trust.
- The Drowning Pool takes us even further; a grown son who still acts like a child; his daughter, who wants him as a lover; and his wife, for whom the marriage is only a sham. And we should not forget the grandmother, whose emasculating conduct has made all the rest possible.
- The Way Some People Die depicts several relationships that are openly manipulative, including Galley’s marriage to Tarantine, her affair with Keith Dalling, and Herman Speed’s marriage to Marjorie Barron.
- The Ivory Grin shows us relationships that are not only false but coercive. Bess has little agency in her choice of Leo or Benning. She only resumes her marriage with Benning under the explicit threat of blackmail. Ain’t love grand?
We may be done with The Ivory Grin, but we are not anywhere near done with the variety of coercive relationships Macdonald has to offer.