Damn the smooth little brute, he had smiled! It was as though he knew very well that in Lombard’s past actions legality had not always been a sine qua non…. Lombard’s own lips parted in a grin. By Jove, he’d sailed pretty near the wind once or twice! But he’d always got away with it! There wasn’t much he drew the line at really….
Lombard reflects on his transaction with Mr. Morris, a shady accountant hired to set up the Soldier Island events. Lombard reveals his anti-Semitism that causes him to underestimate the canny agent, who counts on Lombard’s taste for risk to take the bait. Lombard refers to legality as being an unessential element of his dealings. Lombard suspects he may end up doing something illegal, but he enjoys outsmarting the law.
As the gong sounded, Philip Lombard came out of his room and walked to the head of the stairs. He moved like a panther, smoothly and noiselessly. There was something of the panther about him altogether. A beast of prey—pleasant to the eye. He was smiling to himself. A week—eh? He was going to enjoy that week.
The narrator provides insight into Lombard’s personality by describing his actions and state of mind. Lombard believes this assignment will last a week. He doesn’t feel concerned that the job will be difficult, because he feels up for any challenge. He also revels in the fancy accommodations—and may also be eyeing Vera as a possible conquest. The narrator’s depiction of Lombard makes his motives suspicious to the reader, but as another character points out later, those surface motives seem “a bit too obvious.” The true murderer ends up being much more clever than Lombard.
Lombard’s brain had been active. Was he to come out in the open, or not? He made up his mind. “Same sort of thing,” he said. “Invitation, mention of mutual friends—I fell for it all right. I’ve torn up the letter.”
While the group discusses how they came to be on the island, Lombard provides a false explanation. Having been hired, or so he thinks, to keep an eye on the other guests, he believes that the situation they find themselves in—accused of wrongdoing—is the very situation he may be expected to deal with. As such, he believes he should not reveal his position. His lie allows him to blend in as just another guest.
Lombard spoke. His eyes were amused. He said: “About those natives—… Story’s quite true! I left ‘em! Matter of self-preservation. We were lost in the bush. I and a couple of other fellows took what food there was and cleared out…. Not quite the act of a pukka sahib, I’m afraid. But self-preservation’s a man’s first duty. And natives don’t mind dying, you know. They don’t feel about it as Europeans do.”
Lombard provides a weak and insensitive explanation for his crime after the recording listing everyone’s wrongdoing states that Lombard caused the deaths of twenty-one East Africans. Unlike many of the other guests, Lombard admits to his action. He reveals himself to be both immoral and racist. Lombard’s self-preservation instinct will serve him well in the trials to come. While Lombard’s unappealing qualities make him a prime suspect, the reader understands that the true murderer keeps his or her intentions secret.
Lombard said, frowning: “The devil of it is that that’s all probably been provided for…. Practical joke perhaps. We’re to be marooned here, no attention is to be paid to signals, etc. Possibly the village has been told there’s a wager on. Some damn’ fool story anyway.”
Lombard realizes that, like the other guests, he was lured to the island on a pretext specially designed to appeal to him. As he confronts their plight, Lombard’s quick mind and ability to deal with sticky situations are put to the test. His suspicion regarding the villagers proves to be exactly correct: They have been told to ignore signals from the island on the pretext of not interfering in an experiment.
[A]ll of them, suddenly, looked less like human beings. They were reverting to more bestial types…. Philip Lombard’s senses seemed heightened, rather than diminished. His ears reacted to the slightest sound. His step was lighter and quicker, his body was lithe and graceful. And he smiled often, his lips curling back from his long white teeth.
The narrator frequently describes Lombard’s resemblance to a large and beautiful but dangerous animal, such as a panther, throughout the novel. As the bodies pile up and the situation seems ever more dangerous for the remaining guests, Lombard’s catlike instinct for sensing danger and protecting himself becomes more heightened and serves him well. Unlike the other guests, his increasing resemblance to an animal represents an enhancement rather than a diminishment of his personality and skills.
Which of them is U.N. Owen. Well, at a guess, and with absolutely nothing to go upon, I’d plump for Wargrave!... [T]o begin with, he’s an old man and he’s been presiding over courts of law for years. That is to say, he’s played God Almighty for a good many months every year. That must go to a man’s head eventually. He gets to see himself as all powerful, as holding the power of life and death—and it’s possible that his brain might snap and he might want to go one step farther and be Executioner and Judge Extraordinary.
Lombard’s grasp of the situation the guests face on the island proves—in the end—to be completely correct. He pinpoints both the murderer’s identity and motivation. Unfortunately for Lombard, Wargrave evades detection and justice by faking his own murder. After that, Lombard feels thrown off and seems just as in the dark as the other three remaining guests/suspects, making him suspect all of them at different times.
Lombard said: “Come on, hand it over.” His quick brain was working. Which way—which method—talk her over—lull her into security or a swift dash— All his life Lombard had taken the risky way. He took it now. He spoke slowly, argumentatively: “Now look here, my dear girl, you just listen—“ And then he sprang. Quick as a panther—as any other feline creature….
After Vera obtains Lombard’s revolver and points it at him, Lombard relies on the element of surprise—his usual methods, speed and risk—to disarm Vera. The two suspect each other and a battle for life begins. As a sexist who also has a soft spot for Vera, Lombard underestimates her as a threat even as he suspects her of being the murderer. Or perhaps, he overestimates his own abilities. Either way, the chance he takes proves to be fatal: Vera shoots him as he pounces.