I’m nearing the end of my years-long dive into the Lew Archer series, and I’ve begun spacing them out to avoid finishing. The Zebra-Striped Hearse is definitely a lesser entry in the series, but there’s still much to be enjoyed.
Archer himself is always enjoyable. As tough as they come and smarter than others give him credit for, Macdonald’s private eye extraordinaire finds himself on the trail of a young woman on the verge of coming into a fortune but who may be about to marry the wrong man. Hired by the woman’s domineering father, Archer reluctantly journeys to Mexico to trace the origins of a suitor who seems to be without a past.
Over the course of a whirlwind few days Archer finds himself dragged by the case not just to Mexico, but to San Francisco and Reno as well. He’s trying to find out how an artist calling himself Burke Damis came into existence, and whether it has anything to do with a couple of dead bodies.
By now you’re probably wondering what the hell all that has to do with a zebra-striped hearse, and I can’t say I blame you. Truth is, the titular vehicle has little bearing on the plot, leaving the reader to wonder if it’s just a vestige of an earlier draft or if Macdonald simply found the idea irresistible. Archer sees the hearse while sitting in a diner, and the crew of carefree surfers it carries will eventually reconnect with the story in a minor way, but not nearly enough to command first billing. It’s a mystery almost as compelling as the actual plot.
As for the dead bodies, Macdonald outdoes himself with the twists on this one. Not only is it not who you think it is, it’s not who think it is the second time you thought it was someone. This one truly isn’t over until the last page.