THE WYCHERLY WOMAN                   Part Two



                                 LET’S SAY HELLO TO HOMER WYCHERLY


The story opens in a standard Macdonald fashion—Archer driving through a countryside devastated by oil drilling, occasionally passing a house of the rich; more often he sees the slums of the migrant workers who service the drilling rigs.  This time the case takes him to northern California, to the inaptly named town of Meadow Farms, and to his client, who resides alone in an ugly hilltop edifice overlooking the oil derricks and patches of alkali desert below.




I have done great disservice to Macdonald in ignoring his naming of characters.  Nearly every name either is a word play on a character’s primary trait or at least a chance for Macdonald to show off his knowledge of Greek mythology.  And if you don’t believe me, open Dreamers Who Live Their Dreams to almost any page and you will be bombarded with Peter Wolfe’s fascination with the topic.  You will need to get it there rather than here; Wolfe cares and I don’t.  But “Homer Wycherly” is a stopper. Although Wycherly is his family name, the title of the book and the focus of the plot is on the women bearing the name, with all its associations of magic, female power, and hidden knowledge. “Homer” places him outside—ridiculously outside—the female mysteries surrounding him.  Macdonald needs nothing more to set up an expectation that his client will be the clueless male of the story—an expectation that will be fulfilled.


                                                     Back to the Plot


Wycherly apologizes for not being more hospitable; he is just re-opening the house and the servants are away.  Archer notices a bright abstract painting above the mantlepiece:

             Wycherly looked at the painting as if it were a Rorschach test, and he had failed it.

            “Some of my wife’s work.” He added to himself. “I’m going to have it taken down.”

             The missing person is not Wycherly’s wife, from whom he is divorced, but rather his only daughter, Phoebe.

The plot gets complicated fast and the trail is already cold.


  • Phoebe had been attending Boulder Beach College, but dropped out in November, two months ago, and hasn’t been seen since.
  • Homer left on a long Pacific cruise from San Francisco the first week of November and has been incommunicado until his recent return. (Remember this is in the days before the internet).
  • His ex-wife, Catherine, came to the bon voyage party very drunk and made such a nasty scene she had to be escorted off the ship. Phoebe was also at the party.
  • Wycherly insists that Phoebe cannot be with Catherine and strongly discourages Archer from even thinking about asking Catherine about the whereabouts of their daughter.
  • Wycherly has contacted Phoebe’s college roommate, who says that Phoebe never returned from San Francisco and has not been in school.
  • Phoebe had only recently enrolled at Boulder Beach—she had left Stanford due to academic difficulties.
  • Phoebe had found a boyfriend named Bobby at her new school but Wycherly never met him.
  • When Wycherly looks for photos of Phoebe he finds that every one is missing—the only one he has is the one he carries in his wallet.
  • Wycherly is certain that Phoebe and Catherine didn’t leave the bon voyage party together. He had paid for Phoebe to stay the night at a good hotel in town, the St. Francis, before driving back to college.
  • Phoebe had her own car, which she had left at a garage near the hotel; she took a taxi to the ship.
  • Getting more specific, Wycherly says that his ship sailed November 2 and that he docked again yesterday, January 7. He immediately telephoned his daughter but only reached her roommate, which was when he learned she hasn’t been seen in two months.

Archer says that he is going to drive to Boulder Beach; Wycherly intends to see the college administration about the disappearance. Wycherly confesses that he hates to drive and Archer agrees to give him a lift.

Next stop, Boulder Beach.



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