The Rhythm Section
Mark Burnell
Contributed by Elene Blackwelder
Chapter 1
Summary

Keith Proctor, an investigative journalist, is relentless in his search for a mysterious call girl whose phone number is on a business card he receives from one of his acquaintances. Sadly, the part showing her telephone number has been torn off. In his pursuit for the girl’s information, Proctor searches the dingy streets in the night as he makes enquiries about her, ultimately leading him to the brothel where she works. There, the call girl introduces herself to Proctor as Lisa — yet he believes that “Lisa” is a pseudonym for Stephanie, her real name. Although he informs her that he knows of her true identity, she insists that she is just a prostitute. Proctor admits that all he wants is to learn the truth about her. Eventually, he pays her and Lisa agrees to talk to him. Once again, he confronts her for having a secret identity and discloses that he knows her real name, Stephanie Patrick. She is astonished that a stranger has discovered her secret and becomes progressively hostile towards him. Due to Proctor’s insistence, Lisa pretends to go and give Proctor’s money to Joan, the maid who cleans the brothel. Although he expects her to return afterwards, a heavily built man comes into the room and orders Proctor to get out of the brothel. His attempts to run are futile, and he is half-beaten to death before being thrown out into the streets. The heavily built man warns him against ever returning.

Analysis

When the author describes how Proctor gets into a phone-box to search for a business card similar to the one he has, the character’s determination for finding Lisa is portrayed to the audience. Proctor locks himself inside the phone-box despite the unbearable stench: “The smell of stale cigarettes was unpleasant, but Proctor found himself grudgingly grateful for it since it mostly masked the underlying stench of urine” (Burnell, 13). Furthermore, the author hints at Lisa’s persona being a guise when he begins the first chapter by referring to her as a “chemical blonde”. This is also reiterated when the narrator first sees her: “Her hair was blonde—chemically blonde—but her dark roots were showing” (Burnell, 15). This shows that Stephanie had dyed her hair so that she could hide her true identity. Furthermore, the fact that Stephanie becomes hostile and has Proctor thrown out of the brothel emphasizes the fear of her true identity being revealed. This chapter leaves the readers wondering why Stephanie would want to hide her true identity behind the façade of being a prostitute.

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