One of the downsides of indie publishing is that there are so many titles out there, it’s hard for the good ones to get attention. This is one of the good ones. D. J. “Jock” MacDonald ran the police station in the mining town of Kilembe, Uganda in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and was responsible for keeping order in a broad swath of the country’s rural Western Province. Dead End at Buffalo Corner recounts actual events in a novel-like third-person narrative.
These five works show Millar to be a brilliant mystery/suspense writer. I’ve reviewed them all separately, and they’re all four or five stars. She really deserves to be more widely read. Note that the negative reviews of this book on Amazon complain about the small print size, not the content of the works themselves. The print is indeed small. That, combined with large pages and narrow margins makes reading hard on the eyes.
Margaret Millar’s The Listening Walls opens in a room in the Windsor Hotel in Mexico City in the late 1950’s. Two American women are vacationing together. The mousy, deferential Amy Kellogg is feeling some resentment after getting roped into this trip by her domineering friend Wilma Wyatt. Wilma, thirty-three and just coming off her second divorce, is alternately high-spirited and moody, arrogant and temperamental, a drama queen seeking attention and excitement to distract from a life that wasn’t going as planned.
Phew! This one was a long slog. Putnam provides exhaustive data in his examination of the decline of “social capital” in late 20th-century American society. The author defines social capital as the network of informal social bonds within a society. These bonds tie individuals and communities together, providing social, economic, and emotional support for all. The social networks of church, clubs, interest groups and sports leagues embody an ethos of trust and open-ended reciprocity: you watch my kids this afternoon, and I’ll watch yours some day in the future.
I’m generally not a big fan of spy thrillers, but I wanted to read this one because so many fans of the genre consider it a classic. The plot itself was okay, but the writing and characterization left a lot to be desired. I think much of the book’s initial success came from it being the right story at the right time. At bottom, it’s a conspiracy novel exposing some of shadier operations of powerful governments, and the lengths to which those governments will go to cover up their crimes.
The Woman in White opens with a mysterious encounter between artist Walter Hartright and an unnamed woman dressed entirely in white. Hartright runs into her late at night along the dark road from Hampstead Heath to London. The woman is clearly frightened, fleeing some unseen pursuer. She asks Hartright for directions, which he gives. He doesn’t know who she is, but his instinct tells him to help her. In her disconcerted ramblings, she tells him she had spent a brief portion of her youth in the country house he is planning to visit, and she warns him of an evil man he will soon encounter.
Stanislaw Lem’s His Master’s Voice is science fiction of the highest order: a meditation on man’s place in the cosmos, an examination of the limits of our knowledge, and a scathing condemnation of how politics influences the practice of science. Originally published in 1967, this title, along with a number of Lem’s other works, was reissued in 2020 by MIT press. The opening chapters provide a brief backstory. Australian scientists, granted access to the Palomar Observatory, spent two years studying neutrino emissions raining down from space.
The Hiding Girl begins with an ominous scene. Two men, whom our gut tells us are not to be trusted, approach a woman and her daughters as they carry groceries into their isolated country home. Twelve-year-old Emily has the same foreboding instinct as the reader. Something bad is about to go down. But her mother is too trusting and her sister is too young to share her concern. Something bad indeed goes down, and Emily is the only one to escape alive.
Margaret Millar’s 1957 novel has a simple setup: a bunch of men in their late thirties are meeting for a weekend away from the wives and kids at a remote country lodge to fish, play poker, and drink. Only one of them never arrives. The boys call the wives, and together they reconstruct a picture of where Ron Galloway was last seen and where he was headed. Millar’s novels of the mid to late 1950s are brilliant studies of what actually goes on under the surface of middle-class American and Canadian life.
Usually, when I finish reading a book, I write a thousand-word review. I can’t do that with a book as deep, thoughtful, and moving as this one. There’s just too much there. This will be one of those rare books I’m still digesting months or even years after finishing. This is also one of the few that will go onto my re-read list. For the first 90 pages or so, I felt the book was going nowhere, and I would have given up if not for the many glowing reviews.
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