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University at Buffalo Libraries

George Kelley Paperback & Pulp Fiction Collection

The Way Some People Die

cover image By: Macdonald, John Ross (pseudonym of Kenneth Millar) (male)
Publisher: Pocket Books, Inc. (907)
Place of Publication: New York, NY
Catalog #: Kelley Box 334: PS3525 .I486 W39 1952
Contributor: J. Lukin


Era: 1950s Author as on Cover: Ross MacDonald Geographic Locale: Los Angeles, California, with brief excursions to San Francisco and Reno, Nevada Date of Publication: 1952  |  Original Date: 1951 Setting: urban; shabby-genteel and impoverished neighborhoods; a motel; a crime boss's mansion Motives: protection, drug dealing, theft, murder

Plot Summary

Private investigator Lew Archer is retained by prudish old Mrs. Lawrence to find her wayward daughter, a former nurse who's become involved with the underworld. Archer's search for the young woman leads him into a world of shady and illicit commerce and its desperate customers, people who will indulge in the pleasures of alcohol, heroin, and even professional wrestling to escape the pressures of their lives. Archer finds himself accepting money from a crime boss, attention from a chunky Toledo housewife, and a can of smack from a washed-up thug. Caught flouting the law, he is made to cooperate with the authorities in a sting operation. He finally deduces that he's been a pawn for the criminals since the beginning. By the time Archer has solved the mysteries that have arisen, he cannot honestly tell Mrs. Lawrence that her daughter is out of trouble; but the old woman refuses to accept the harsh truths his investigation has revealed.

Major Characters

Lew Archer adult male, late 30s, tall and reassuring, with a cynical edge, professional private investigator

Lieutenant Gary adult male, perhaps fortyish, broad-shouldered, intelligent, impatient with smug P.I.s, police officer with the Los Angeles Police Department

Herman Speed adult male, middle-aged, large, a mobster trying to retire

Joe Tarantine adult male, up-and-coming mobster

Danny Dowser adult male, fortyish, short, pudgy, bulgy eyes, misshapen ear, southern California crime boss

Gilbert Moreno "Mosquito," adult male, medium-sized, big bushy hair, cowardly drug dealer

Mario Tarantine adult male, Italian, big build, struggling to make an honest living

Keith Dalling "Dahl," adult male, tall and beautiful, auburn hair, long dark eyelashes, an alcoholic actor and gigolo

Marjorie Fellows adult female, middle-aged, largish, wealthy housewife from Toledo, Ohio

Galatea Lawrence Tarantine "Gally," adult female, 24 years old, gorgeous, blonde, registered nurse with shady friends

Level of Violence

two people are shot to death, one is suffocated in a freezer, one is murdered with a car, one jumps off a bridge, one is shot non-fatally, two are repeatedly beaten. Archer uses violent tactics to disarm a couple of attackers. Violence generally arouses disgust in narrator Archer.


sex is a tool by which the bad guys (and gals) entrap innocent people. Archer diagnoses the story's chief femme fatale as a psychopathic man-hater.

Gender Roles

although the majority of men depicted are criminals, men are permitted a wider range of roles than women; the latter, if young, are either victims or predators. Older women are almost caricatures.


Archer interacts with some young inhabitants of the black ghetto and comments pessimistically on their probable futures. Otherwise, everyone's a European-American. The Italian Tarantine brothers are presented as big, tough guys, one of whom hates African-Americans. Their mother is a stereotypical Italian mama -- pious, sentimental and obese.

Alcohol/Drug Abuse

most of the characters smoke cigarettes and drink socially. Drinking to excess, like Keith Dalling, like Mrs. Lawrence, is stigmatized. Heroin dealers are presented as loathsome, while junkies are pathetic creatures in need of rescue.

Law Enforcement

police corruption is mentioned, but all the police officers depicted do their work with competence and honesty.

Subject Headings

Detectives, Private/ California - Los Angeles/ Alcoholism/ Gangsters/ Police/ Drugs/ Crime and Criminals/ Murder/ Archer, Lew

Psychological Elements

the story's chief villain seems to delight in effecting or arranging the brutal murders of men -- Archer suggests that "only the female sex was human in her eyes, and she was its only really important member." But Archer himself also acts irrationally, concealing facts from the authorities in the hope that he alone can discover truth. Heroin addiction, alcoholism, prudery and ruthless greed are also among the psychological troubles depicted.