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.
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.
My designer, the brilliant and stunning Lindsay Heider Diamond, has come up with yet another excellent cover for my next book. We hope to have this one out sometime this summer. My last book, Wake Up, Wanda Wiley, a satire on the romance and thriller genres, was a bit of a departure. The Friday Cage is a return to my usual mystery/thriller story. The plot runs along the lines of Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, in which Cary Grant finds himself pursued by people he doesn’t know for reasons he doesn’t understand.
I finally got around to reading this, three years after it was recommended to me by a pair of retired federal agents who had spent much of their careers pursuing drug runners in South Texas. No Country for Old Men opens with Anton Chigurh, one of the most pitiless and chilling figures in modern fiction, escaping a police station after his arrest. From the ease with which he kills the deputy, it’s clear that local law enforcement in South Texas in 1980 isn’t prepared to handle such ruthlessly efficient criminals.
Bob Hartley’s North and Central opens in a bar in a working neighborhood of Chicago in the late 1970s. Andy, the bartender/narrator serves a clientele of factory workers, drunks, neighborhood characters and cops, many of whom are as brazenly corrupt as the city’s infamous politicians. From the opening chapter, which depicts the bar’s collection of oddball regulars exchanging crude insults, you might get the sense that this book is going to be something like Animal House meets Goodfellas.
In the opening scene of Charles Willeford’s Pick Up, counterman Harry Jordan is wrapping up a long day’s work in a San Francisco diner in the early 1950s. One last customer straggles in around 1:00 a.m. Helen Meredith is drunk, seeking a cup of coffee. She’s well dressed and obviously better off than Harry, who lives in a boarding house and has trouble keeping a steady job. When it’s time to pay for her coffee, Helen confesses she’s lost her purse and doesn’t have a dime.
Published in 1966, One Fearful Yellow Eye is the eighth book in John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee series. This one takes place mostly in Chicago, where McGee has travelled to help an old friend. Gloria “Glory” Doyle was one those “broken birds” McGee had taken in and for a period of healing after her life had gone wrong. Her happily-ever-after came in the form of marriage to the good and caring Dr.
Margaret Millar’s Beast in View opens with thirty-year-old Helen Clarvoe receving an unnerving, vaguely threatening phone call from a woman who claims to have once been her friend. Clarvoe is the sole daughter of a wealthy Southern California family whose dysfunction will be familiar to readers of the Lew Archer mysteries written by Millar’s husband, Ross Macdonald. The time is 1955, the place, Los Angeles. Miss Clarvoe, estranged from her mother and brother, spends most of her days alone in her room in the Monica Hotel, her door “locked against the ugliness of the world.
This is one brutal book, and a damn good one. Slim writes with a fire that you rarely see even from great authors at their best. He doesn’t sugarcoat anything, nor does he lace his narrative with apologies to reassure delicate readers. He simply gives a straightforward account of a cruel world in which the cruelest rise to the top… at least for a while. The book takes place mostly on the south side of Chicago between the late 1930s and the late 1950s.