THE ZEBRA-STRIPED HEARSE Part Ten
The Investigation Moves Forward, In its own Way
Chapter 1 paints Damis unfavorably, and both the reader and Archer have increasing disquiet about Campion/Damis as the story unfolds. By the time we’ve read 18 chapters it’s hard not to be convinced of his guilt. But as Schopen points out, instead of beginning to wrap up the case by providing further details of Campion’s guilt, Macdonald is just getting started.
At this point, the end of Chapter 26, you are right to be confused. The physical evidence points to three people, none of them Campion, but the circumstances point away just as strongly:
- Simpson’s body is buried across the street from the home of the Stones, but they didn’t have the ice pick.
- Isobel had the ice pick but has no apparent motive to kill Simpson, let alone to kill and bury him in Citrus City.
- Mark Blackwell had equal access to the ice pick but the same comments above apply to him. Whatever explanation can be found for Simpson’s death must include the place of the murder and burial. Also, as damning as the evidence of the coat appears to be, it connects to the murder of Dolly Stone, not to Ralph Simson.
Sometimes Macdonald’s plots are circular and we watch the detective follow a spiral towards the center. Some are zig-zags, where we follow a false lead and then shift to another until the final shift takes us where we need to go. But in his best books it’s a series of Russian dolls; when you uncover the next one, it appears to be the entire solution, whole and complete, until you realize there’s another one inside. The Wycherly Woman and Meet Me at the Morgue achieve this at times; but here it’s a sustained effect right up to the time the innermost doll is revealed in the last chapter.
Archer (and Macdonald) Waste No Time
While his client is recovering in the bathroom, Archer telephones his colleague in Reno.
- Mark Blackwell hasn’t appeared at Lake Tahoe.
- The blood type on Harriet’s hat is her blood type. (It’s 1962 and this is the best they can do.)
Archer resumes his questioning of Isobel. Now she is ready to talk more freely:
- Mark came to her last summer and begged her to marry him. She wasn’t in love with him but she was lonely and bored with her widowhood. She had been fond of him as a friend when Ronald was alive and she hoped that would be enough.
- Mark’s trouble was that he’d met a girl in Lake Tahoe and got her pregnant. She was demanding money. He was afraid she would pressure him to marry her; marriage to Isobel would head that off.
- She didn’t suspect that the girl could be Dolly Stone and said she would never have married him if she had.
- Mark was desperate; he was afraid he would be attracted to even younger girls if he didn’t have a wife to steady him.
- Not that it matters now, but Isobel admits she lied about the topcoat. Yes, it was Mar’ks and it was at the Lake Tahoe lodge where Simpson could have seen it and stolen it.
- She starts talking about Mark taking the icepick but stops before completing her thought. Archer doesn’t press her. There are other fish to fry.
We Go to Where Every Archer Book Goes, Deeper Into the Past
Archer shifts the conversation to the death of her first husband on a hiking accident with Mark Blackwell:
- Isobel finally admits that the young girl Mark was infatuated with was Dolly Stone. He doted on her, bought her gifts and took her on outings even as a child.
- Ronald Jaimet learned of Mark’s attachment and demanded that it stop. The two had a heated argument about it shortly before Ronald’s fatal hike with Mark Blackwell.
- A phone call from Archer’s Reno contact confirms that Blackwell never turned up at the Lake Tahoe lodge. Archer says, in Isobel’s hearing, that Blackwell is the leading suspect in at least two murders: Ralph Simpson and Dolly Stone.
- And there’s more. Harriet’s car, which was last seen near the Lake Tahoe lodge, was found abandoned near the Malibu beach house.
It’s time for another trip, but by no means the last.