Study Guide

Cloud Atlas Part 3: Half-Lives—The First Luisa Rey Mystery (Chapters 1-20)

By David Mitchell

Part 3: Half-Lives—The First Luisa Rey Mystery (Chapters 1-20)

Chapter 1

  • Sixty-six-year-old Rufus Sixsmith (now we know his first name) stands on a balcony and ponders suicide.
  • He's jumpy and conflicted about something. Every noise startles him; he's scared it's a gunshot.

Chapter 2

  • Luisa Rey tries to escape a party, particularly a man calling himself Richard Ganja, the "minor-league rock musician" (3.2.6) with a spiritual crisis and coke addiction she's been sent to interview.
  • Richard Ganja babbles on about his spirit guide, tries to get Luisa to smoke some weed, and uses bad pickup lines.

Chapter 3

  • Luisa Rey almost misses the elevator, but Rufus Sixsmith holds the door open for her.
  • The power goes out on their way down. "Are you still glad […] the age of chivalry isn't dead?" (3.3.10), Sixsmith asks.
  • Stuck, Luisa is just glad she's not "confined with a psychopath, a claustrophobe, or Richard Ganja" (3.3.11).

Chapter 4

  • Sixsmith asks Luisa about her father, Lester Rey, a famous journalist.
  • Luisa gives him the scoop on her dad. Check out "Characters" for more information on this admirable hero Luisa is trying to live up to.
  • Luisa hasn't quite made it up to her dad's level yet. She writes for a gossip magazine called Spyglass. "Excellently written simpering gossip" (3.4.8), she slyly says.

Chapter 5

  • The conversation shifts to Alfred Hitchcock. Luisa and Sixsmith talk about his movies. Sixsmith often gets dragged to them by his niece, Megan.
  • Luisa and Sixsmith decide that "all thrillers would wither without contrivance" (3.5.4).

Chapter 6

  • Sixsmith shows Luisa a picture of him and Megan on his yacht, the Starfish, and he tells her a bit about Megan's family.
  • When asked if he has any children, Sixsmith says, "I've been married to science all my life" (3.6.5). He changes the subject.
  • Suddenly, things get real. Sixsmith wants to know what Luisa would do to protect a source if she believed in the issue. Jail? Put her life in danger?
  • The daughter of a journalist, Luisa says she'd do anything.
  • Just as Sixsmith is about the spill the beans, the power comes back on. Before they part, Sixsmith says, "I feel I've known you for years, not ninety minutes" (3.6.15).

Chapter 7

  • Back in her apartment, Luisa finds Javier Gomez, the boy who lives next door. He has a tendency to jump between balconies and let himself in. He has an abusive family, and she lets him come and go as he pleases.
  • Luisa and Javier chat, and she lets him sleep on her sofa that night.

Chapter 8

  • The next day, Luisa attends a staff meeting at Spyglass.
  • Story ideas are pitched: piranhas in the sewers, drunken parties aboard Air Force One, fear mongering about serial killers. This is the kind of classy rag Luisa works for.
  • Luisa pitches Sixsmith's story: the new HYDRA nuclear reactor is unsafe, and there's a conspiracy to cover it up.
  • Since Luisa's story actually makes sense, Dom Grelsch, the editor, says she'll need to provide complete proof before they'll ever publish it.

Chapter 9

  • Luisa drives through the picket line around Swannekke Island, where the power station is.
  • Inside the facility, she meets Fay Li, the PR woman for Seaboard, the company behind the reactor.

Chapter 10

  • Perspective switches to Joe Napier, head of security at Seaboard.
  • Napier's thinking about how "every conscience has an off switch" (3.10.2). He wonders how Seaboard managed to get ten out of twelve scientists to ignore the dangers of the reactor. That's more than the number of dentists who think we should switch to Trident.
  • The twelfth scientist is Sixsmith. He probably chews Orbit.
  • Napier, only a year and a half away from retirement, wonders if his own conscience has an off switch as he looks at a photo of his deceased wife, Milly.

Chapter 11

  • There's another perspective shift, this time to Seaboard CEO Alberto Grimaldi as he gives a speech revealing the HYDRA-Zero reactor to much applause.
  • After his speech, Grimaldi introduces the next speaker: Federal Power Commissioner Lloyd Hooks.
  • Hooks and Grimaldi joke with each other, Grimaldi saying, "You'll only wrangle your way onto this company's board over my dead body" (3.11.6). Hmm, our spider sense is tingling.

Chapter 12

  • Luisa slips away from the press conference. Pretending to look for the restroom, she makes her way to Dr. Sixsmith's office.
  • Sixsmith's name is being scraped off the door and another man, Isaac Sachs, is snooping around inside.
  • Sachs thinks Luisa is Sixsmith's niece, Megan, and she doesn't correct him.
  • Sachs tells Luisa that Sixsmith is in Vegas, but before he can say any more, Fay Li finds them.
  • Fay Li says that Sixsmith is working on a project in Canada. Hmm, work or vacation? Which is it?

Chapter 13

  • In a cheap motel, Sixsmith watches the debut of the HYDRA reactor and wonders what will happen when it explodes and showers California with radiation. That's not the California dream the Mamas and the Papas had.
  • Sixsmith answers the phone, thinking it's Megan. Instead, it's an unidentified male, warning Sixsmith that he's been tracked and that he needs to leave the country immediately. Eek.

Chapter 14

  • In the Spyglass office, Jerry Nussbaum tells an off-color story about black bums being "New Tribes" (3.14.1) in America.
  • Luisa overhears Grelsch on the phone, trying to get his insurance to pay for his wife's leukemia treatment.
  • Grelsch has bad news for Luisa too: they're not running her story on Seaboard and the HYDRA reactor.

Chapter 15

  • At the airport, Sixsmith hides a binder in a locker and mails the key to Luisa, care of Spyglass magazine.
  • Unfortunately, all the international flights to London are delayed, so Sixsmith stays in the airport hotel, the Hotel Bon Voyage. We're not sure if this is going to be a nice trip or not...

Chapter 16

  • Luisa and Javier sit in Luisa's apartment. The phone rings, but Luisa lets the machine get it.
  • It's Luisa's mother, and she's running down a list of eligible bachelors to set her daughter up with.
  • Luisa's too busy with work to pay any attention to her mother's matrimonial schemes.

Chapter 17

  • Sixsmith eats dinner in the hotel and reads through a stack of letters written to him by his friend and first love, Robert Frobisher.
  • Sixsmith also worries that he's put Luisa Rey in danger by dragging her into this mess.
  • Relieved that he'll be safe in England in less than 48 hours, Sixsmith falls asleep.

Chapter 18

  • Sixsmith is not safe.
  • A psycho named Bill Smoke, working for Seaboard, hides in Sixsmith's bathroom.
  • When Sixsmith falls asleep, Smoke slips in and puts a bullet in his skull.
  • Smoke stands back and admires his work, proud of what he's done.

Chapter 19

  • At the Snow White Diner, Luisa reads an article about Sixsmith's suicide.
  • Luisa's sure he was murdered as part of the Seaboard cover-up.
  • Even though her colleague, Roland Jakes, thinks she's nutso, Luisa's determined to get to the bottom of it.

Chapter 20

  • Luisa arrives at the Hotel Bon Voyage, where the manager is ticked off at having to spend money to have the room cleaned after Sixsmith's murder.
  • With heaving sobs, Luisa pretends to be Sixsmith's niece in order to get access to the room.
  • A lady named Janice from Esphigmenou, Utah, whose baby died, tries to soothe Luisa's grief.
  • The hotel manager gives Luisa the nine letters from Frobisher that Sixsmith kept (could they be the same nine we read in Part 2?).
  • Luisa leaves, walking right past locker 909, not knowing that Sixsmith left something inside for her.