The House of Broken Dreams
Macdonald doesn’t reveal what Archer thinks about the story of sudden good fortune of Hester and her mother, but whatever credit he gave it, doesn’t last long. Teeny Campbell, Hester’s mother, lives in a shack with no phone, crammed with furniture from a larger house. Hester told her mother that they were moving back to the house they used to own—presumably where the furniture came from—and Teeny is giddy at the news. In her story to her mother, Hester has mixed fact and fiction—she had a Canadian husband but he was much older than George Wall, was very wealthy, and then died and left Hester plenty of money. In addition, Hester is going to be a movie star at Simon Graff’s studio.
Teeny was married to a successful silent film star, but his voice wasn’t right for the talkies and the family fell on hard times. Her husband’s failure only encouraged Teeny in her efforts to prepare her two daughters—lookalikes but not twins—for Hollywood. Hester swallowed the dream whole, but her older sister Rina shrugged it off and went to school to become a psychiatric nurse. No doubt to get a better understanding of her dysfunctional family, as often happens.
Things Happen Fast–and not Always Logically
Archer goes to the address of the old Campbell family mansion. Archer parks nearby. He sees a man arrive by car and then sees Lance leave. The car is registered to Theodore Marfeld, who will turn out to be an employee of Simon Graff’s studio. Just to help keep things straight, Marfeld is an ex-police officer who tried hard to beat a confession for Gabriella’s murder from an innocent black man who works at the club as a pool boy.
The moment Archer goes inside, Marfeld knocks him out with a fireplace poker. As Archer goes down, he glimpses the body of a young blonde woman
The Superfluous Hollywood Connections
Arches wakes up, not in the mansion but in Graff’s movie studio. What better place to handle the problem discreetly?
- Leroy Frost, the head of security at the studio, threatens Archer for messing up a multimillion-dollar deal. At that point Macdonald abandons all reluctance to employ an unbelievable coincidence by having George Wall show up even though George had no way of knowing Archer would be there. In fairness, Macdonald would say that George staggered from his sickbed and decided to wander around the enormous studio grounds in the hope of running into Hester.
- A brawl between Archer, Wall and studio security ensues, with predictable results. Archer is knocked out yet again.
- This time Arches wakes up near a swimming pool at Stern’s house, with Marfeld and Stern in attendance, along with a goon named Flake. Again, why do they bring him into the heart of things?
- Frost and Marfeld leave; once Archer is alone with Flake, he overpowers him. He goes back to the Campbell mansion just in time to see Frost and Marfeld inspecting the bloodstain. Frost replaced the poker with one from the studio prop department. They also have a convenient discussion about how Marfeld is afraid Frost is going to try to blackmail him with the real poker, which Frost had hidden away.
- Archer then drives to Lance’s house and finds him shot dead just inside the front door. He completes his search of Lance’s belongings and finds nothing important except an invitation from Simon Graff to a party at the club that evening. Archer hides while a car pulls up. It turns out to be Carl Stern, the Nevada gambler; when Stern finds the body he screams in surprise and flees.
- Archer follows Stern to the old Campbell mansion, where Archer glimpses a young woman upstairs. Stern briefly goes into the house and then leaves.
- Archer lets Stern go and enters Hester’s bedroom. He finds a girl who looks a lot like Hester packing frantically. (You probably know where this is going but give Archer a break—he has never had more than a glimpse of Hester and she has changed her appearance numerous times.)
- Archer tells her of Lance’s death and warns her that she is probably in trouble—that she is possibly being framed for the murder of Gabrielle Torrez. (Although since no one has been arrested for it in two years, that seems like a stretch, given that Lance’s body is freshly dead and only a few feet away.) But Archer is a man of good instincts.
It’s Time for a Party, of Course
Archer has been aware all day that Graff is planning a party at the beach club and decides to crash it with Lance’s invitation. Macdonald does his usual fine description of rich people behaving badly. Through a variety of minor characters Archer learns some important facts:
- Hester and Gabrielle were together the night Gabrielle was murdered.
- Archer confirms that Graff has given Hester the mansion that the Campbell family used to own; and that Isobel Graff knows about the gift, too.
- Isobel tells Archer that her husband Simon Graff is homosexual (or at least bisexual) and that Lance was his boyfriend. She talks wildly and suggests that she is institutionalized most of the time.
- Lance wanted Gabrielle to prostitute herself in LA for him. It is implied that she refused.
- Gabrielle and Graff were lovers, too.
- Tony feels guilty for not taking stronger steps to protect Gabrielle from being corrupted by not only Lance but others in his circle.
- When Simon Graff catches Archer talking to Isobel he demands that Bassett throw him out (since he was never invited in the first place) but Bassett refuses. Graff storms off.
On Waking up After a Beating
Poor Archer is knocked unconscious in more books than not, and in this one it’s three times. An unconscious protagonist is a powerful and oft-used tool in hard boiled fiction. It allows time to pass without the detective being able to take any action, and it renders the detective temporarily harmless. Think of how the knockout drops given to Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon help advance the plot. It can also be a great way to end a chapter.
Macdonald uses the device often, but he’s never content to just have Archer wake up with a sore head. It’s always more dramatic; Archer is swimming, or having an absurd dream, or reliving something from his past as he comes back to consciousness. I don’t know if Macdonald genuinely liked the vivid descriptions or whether he was responding to the films of the day that employed blurred lenses, odd camera angles, and other tricks to reflect the detective’s disorientation, but it’s a staple of his narrative.