GUNNARSON TRIES AGAIN


Gunnarson awakes; he is fortunate that his wife is still asleep and doubly fortunate that she’s ignorant of the anonymous telephone threats against herself and their unborn child.  The day begins with options that at a minimum should have included an abject apology and disclosure of the danger before he returns to his breadwinning role of seeing paying clients.

It was once said of Yasser Arafat that he never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity; it’s also true of William Gunnarson.  He leaves Sally sleeping, goes to the office just long enough to blow off a paying client, and drives to Ferguson’s house uninvited.  It would be an enormous stretch to believe that Lew Archer, whose business is investigations, would do this. It’s flatly unbelievable that a lawyer would do so.  Since lawyers at that time ethically restricted from actively soliciting business in this way, it’s probably a breach of professional ethics as well.

Padilla is present, which is a good thing, because after another four pages of Gunnarson’s harassment of Ferguson, Padilla virtually drags Gunnarson out of the house before the disagreement turns violent. In his desperation to get Ferguson to involve the police, he says, “I know the local police—they’re a decent bunch,” which he does not believe to be true.  Gunnarson’s attempts to get Ferguson to go to the police end with him on the front lawn and Ferguson slamming the door in his face.

Keep in mind that Gunnarson still has not been retained. His legal status as to Ferguson is that of busybody.

I will skip over a chapter leading up to an irrelevant murder and inform you that at the end of Chapter Ten, Ferguson leaves the house and announces that he is going off to make the ransom payment—and if Gunnarson does anything to interfere he will kill him.



                                            The Case Gets into Gear


In Chapter Twelve, Macdonald begins to lay the foundation of the primary  plot.

  • The police tell Gunnarson that the name by which Barker knew her boyfriend, “Larry Gaines” is an alias, one that he has probably used for less than a year.


  • Gaines talked about doing some acting, which in the Ross Macdonald canon is strongly suspicious of criminality.


  • Macdonald doesn’t give us the traditional abandoned luggage to search, but we get a junior version instead. In one of the most shameless coincidences Macdonald ever created, Barker tells Gunnarson that she had bought Gaines a new wallet, that Gaines gave her the old one after transferring its contents. Barker then kept the old wallet, and that she kept it.


  • Instead of the standard letter from an ex or family member, the wallet contains a newspaper clipping of a review of a high school play prominently mentioning “Harry Haines.”


  • As if this wasn’t enough of a lead, the review lists the names of many of the other cast members. Gaine’s retention of this horribly compromising document is inexplicable. Macdonald wrote 25 novels and more than a dozen short stories; I hesitate to make a flat statement, but a case can be made that Gaines is the most stupid criminal he ever created.


  • The police are unimpressed with Gunnarson’s claim that the clipping supports Barker’s innocence, largely because of the ineptness and unprofessionalism that Gunnarson displays in his dealings with Detective Wills.




                                  Chapter Sixteen—The Plot Begins to Move


After his failure at persuading the police, Gunnarson chats with the two ambulance drivers who took Broadman to the hospital, as well as several others who have turned up dead.  Their talk is interrupted by an emergency call—Ferguson has wrecked his car.  Gunnarson follows the ambulance.  Ferguson’s injuries appear minor.  Gunnarson brushes off the traffic cop and takes Ferguson for a stiff drink.  (Apparently this was state of the art treatment for closed head injuries at the time.)

Some combination of the drink, his injuries, and his loneliness bring Ferguson to hire Gunnarson.  My bet is on the head injury.

  • When Ferguson delivered the money, he saw Gaines and his wife Holly May pull up and pick it up. She was driving and waited while Gaines retrieved it.  The accident happened when he was pursuing their car.


  • Ferguson and Holly have been married for six months and he is desperately in love with her.


  • Twenty-five years ago he had an affair with a woman in Boston who became pregnant and he abandoned her. (For those of you for whom this is your first Ross Macdonald novel, Ferguson’s wife Holly is nearly twenty-five.)


  • Ferguson never met Holly’s parents and she never talked about them except to say she had a difficult girlhood.


  • She never told Ferguson her real name. She married him under her stage name.


  • Her agent is Michael Speare; she is under a long-term studio contract. (We will hear more about him later.)


  • When Gunnarson mentions that Holly had been seen at an obstetrician’s office, Ferguson says the two have never discussed whether she is pregnant.







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