Even Peter Wolfe, a strong admirer of the book, had to concede that the ending was “clogged and contrived.” It does not lend itself well to summarization.  But I promised that I would offer summaries of every book and I will not shrink from that.


  • Several days have gone by.


  • A body was found in the charred wreckage of the cabin that turns out to be Larry Gaines.


  • Gunnarson gets Speare to reveal that he was the stocking salesman whom Hilda ran off with years ago.


  • When Julie became famous as Holly May, Speares persuaded her half-sisterHilda to get some plastic surgery to increase her resemblance to her famous half-sister. The result was not close enough to fool people who knew the real Holly May well, but it was good enough to fool people like Salaman which allowed her to feed her drug and gambling addictions.


  • It was Speare’s idea to wreck Holly’s marriage to Ferguson so Holly would come back to acting. Hilda would impersonate Julie and create the impression in Ferguson’s mind that his wife was part of the plot.  The real Holly was kept drugged while she was being held.  (What was supposed to happen when she was released and free to tell her side of the story was apparently not thought through.)


  • Speare gives Gunnarson the address where Hilda is staying and says he is supposed to see her that evening and give her some money. Instead of saying that he will go himself, or passing along the tip to the police, Gunnarson agrees that the two of them should go, and invite Ferguson along as well.  What could go wrong?


  • Ferguson and Gunnarson arrive at Hilda’s address, but so does Speare, driving a sporty new deux ex machina that he uses to run Hilda over when she takes a shot at him. She is dead when Ferguson reaches her.


  • The police become suspicious when Mrs. Haines gives her son a very expensive funeral and find the ransom money in her house. They also find one of the missing jewels when Mrs. Haines is admitted to the psychiatric ward.


And then there are the loose ends that are not wrapped up.


  • We never get clarification on why Ferguson accepts paternity for Holly’s baby after his flat denial to Gunnarson that he could be the father.


  • Ferguson breaks down several times weeping with remorse about the wrong he did to the woman in Boston 25 years ago and how his selfishness condemned her to a terrible life, all of which is true. But after meeting her he says she forgives him and that seems to be the end of it as far as he is concerned. Sucks to be you, Kate Dotery.


  • If Holly May is a famous actress, how did her mother or other siblings not know about her?


  • Does any reader of this book seriously entertain the idea that a person can take out a valid marriage license under their “stage name?”


  • If Speare is not planning to pay Hilda anything further, why does he go to the final meeting at all?


  • More pointedly, why doesn’t Gunnarson insist he stay away? Gunnarson is supposed to be looking out for his client’s interests, which I think includes not endangering his daughter. Why is it a good idea to let Speare have any further contact with her? Hilda would still be alive except for Gunnarson’s mishandling of the situation.








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