Richard Willis is a good cop. He’s seen some ugly stuff in his career, and while he’s proud of what he’s been able to accomplish, he’s not boastful or arrogant. When he and Camille are getting to know each other, he explains his assignment like this:
“And now I’m here. Smaller town, but bigger proving grounds. When Vickery first phoned us, the case wasn’t that big yet, so they sent someone mid-range on the totem pole. Me.” He smiled, almost self-effacingly. “Then it turned into a serial. They’re letting me keep the case for now – with the understanding that I’d better not screw up.” (4.164)
He’s also a smart cop. No matter how hard Camille tries, he won’t share information about the case. It’s super frustrating for her, but also the sign of a true professional. At the end of the book, when Camille confesses that she thinks her mother is the one who has been killing the little girls, Richard finally gives her a peek into what he’d been working on:
“Now my turn for the cliché,” Richard said, his profile to me. “Yes, I was first interested in you because I was interested in your mother. But I genuinely fell for you. As much as you can fall for a person as closed off as you are. Of course, I understand why. At first I thought I’d formally question you, but I didn’t know how close you and Adora were, I didn’t want you to tip her off. And I wasn’t sure, Camille. I wanted time to study her a bit more. It was only a hunch. Purely a hunch. Gossip here and there, about you, about Marian, about Amma and your mother.” (15.104)
That must’ve been hard to keep secret, especially once he and Camille had become intimate. He’s a consummate compartmentalizer, that Richard, which might be good for the career, but it makes his and Camille’s relationship doomed from the start.
Like Frank Curry, Richard is a fresh breath of normalcy for Camille. He’s not just a drunken hook-up or another man trying to take advantage of her pretty face and low self-esteem. Even when Camille reverts to old habits and tries to give him a blow job as an apology, he stops her:
“Let me show you what a good sport I can be,” I said. I was back on autopilot, just like the old days: desperate to submit to him, make him feel better, make him like me again. For a few minutes last night, I’d felt so comforted, and Richard’s appearing outside that motel door had smashed what was left of the lingering calm. I wanted it back.
I lowered myself to my knees, and began unzipping his pants. For a second he put his hand on the back of my head. Then instead he grabbed me roughly by the shoulder.
“Camille, Christ, what are you doing?” He realized how hard his grip was and loosened it, pulled me to my feet.
“I just want to make things okay with us.” I played with a button on his shirt and refused to meet his eyes.
“That won’t do it, Camille,” he said. He kissed me almost chastely on the lips. “You need to know that before we go any further. You just need to know that, period.”
Then he asked me to leave. (14.104-109)
Ultimately, between the sex with John Keene, her mother being a murderer, and the way he discovered her cutting habit, Richard and Camille just weren’t going to make it. But we wish they had a chance, because he seems like a pretty decent guy. Camille could use a bit more decent in her life.