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.
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.
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.
Margaret Millar was best known for her mystery and suspense novels. Wives and Lovers, published near the height of her career in 1954, is somewhat of a departure. The story takes place in Channel City, a thinly veiled version of Santa Barbara where Millar lived with her husband, mystery writer Ross MacDonald. If you come to this this book expecting a hook and an immediately engaging plot, you’ll be frustrated. Wives and Lovers is set of interwoven character studies and a sociological portrait of a fairly wealthy small city in mid-century California.
Margaret Millar’s Vanish in an Instant opens with a rich, cranky old woman arriving at the Detriot airport in December, 1950 to try to extricate her spoiled daughter, Virginia, from some trouble. It takes a chapter or so for us to learn that the trouble is the violent murder of a local philanderer with whom Virginia was having an affair. Millar has the reader and most of the characters off balance from the beginning, creating an instant air of suspense that continues to deepen throughout the book.
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