THE WYCHERLY WOMAN                Part Twelve




                                        WHEN YOU’RE LOST, KEEP GOING


                                              An Interlude with the Police


            Chapter 19 is one of Macdonald’s best set pieces of Archer versus the police.  In so many of the early books, the protagonist comes off as a smart-ass or worse.  Macdonald now demonstrates his stylistic maturity.  Archer is respectful—to a point.  He pounces without mercy when the police logic is weak, but without resorting to sarcasm.  And when the questions get too close to sensitive matters about his client, he has no qualms about bending the truth to protect the Wycherly confidences—even if he doesn’t understand them himself. The police may have the guns and the handcuffs, but Archer is unshaken.

Archer is at the point of being led to a cell on suspicion of being involved in the Stanley Quillan homicide when he exercises his right to a phone call, and telephones Carl Trevor.  The call is doubly important—not only does Trevor smooth things over with the police, Trevor tells him that Phoebe’s green VW had been found—in the ocean, and there is a body inside.  He wants Archer to drive him to the scene.



                         A Harrowing Experience—And There’s a Body, Too


            On first meeting Helen Trevor in Chapter 7, Archer describes her as “a thin woman of about fifty with a face like a silver hatchet.” The same term comes to Archer when he arrives at the Trevor residence at the beginning of Chapter 20. She berates him for taking her husband on this trip, because he had a severe heart attack a couple of years before. As she goes on, Archer has time to reflect.

She was an unattractive woman who knew she was unattractive, had probably known it the day she lifted her bridal veil for her husband’s kiss. Such knowledge could make a wife possessive as hell.


            When Archer tries to explain how important Phoebe is to her husband, she complains bitterly that he is fixated on his niece because she couldn’t give him a child.


“God chose to make me barren.”

            Her fingers crept down from her throat to her meager breast. Her face was fierce and haggard. I was beginning to feel some of the angry strain that knotted Trevor’s arteries.



It’s a remarkable passage, especially since it’s not essential to the plot.  Macdonald had recently spent weeks in the hospital attempting to control an attack of high blood pressure brought on by the search for his daughter, with minimal help from his wife. This may be the purest example I have ever read of an author’s thoughts intruding into the mind of his protagonist.

Blessedly, Carl Trevor appears, insisting he is fit enough for the ride and assuring his wife that he has his digitalis pills.

It’s a hundred-mile ride in the dark to the shore where the car was discovered. Archer and Trevor use the time to make what sense they can of the case.

Archer tells Trevor that he thinks Catherine Wycherly killed Ben Merriman, and probably Stanley Quillan, because they cheated her on the real estate deal.  When Trevor scoffs at the idea, Archer points out that it wasn’t just getting the price of the house—the fact that Stanley had the $50,000 in cash meant that she was cheated out of its entire value.

When Trevor asks how that could have happened, Archer answers that she must have been blackmailed. Archer isn’t sure about what, but speculates it has to do with her bedroom being bugged.

The one thing Archer is sure of is that, whatever happened, Phoebe wasn’t killed November 2 when she left the ship.  The cab driver could not have been mistaken. Whether she is still alive is anyone’s guess.

When they reach the seaside cliff, the police and the diver confirm that the car in the ocean is Phoebe’s VW.  The body found in the car, nude under a blanket in the back seat, is now on a stretcher in the ambulance.

The body has been in the ocean for two months, but Trevor identifies it as Phoebe.  Then he collapses with another heart attack and is rushed to the local hospital in Terranova.

As if things couldn’t get worse, Archer lingers after Trevor is taken away and interviews several locals.  They all remember Bobby Doncaster as a surfer who spent the summer there. They all identify him as the person driving the VW.









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