Margaret Millar is a mystery writer whose career spanned from the 1940s through the 1980s. Though she died in 1994, a collection of short stores was published in 2004, The Couple Next Door). At this point, I have only read four of her novels, published from 1960 to 1970 (A Stranger in My Grave, How Like an Angel, The Fiend, and Beyond This Point Are Monsters). So, my observations at this point are constricted to that portion of her career – a limitation I look forward to rectifying. What I can say about Millar is: what an impressive artist! Her writing is literary quality with her wielding words to create a tense and uncertain sense of place in rural or small-city California, her quiet yet mordant character development, and her deftly paced release of clues interwoven into the text to challenge you every time you think you’ve figured things out – until you hit a Big Reveal that leaves you breathless in both its surprise and its truth. What I particularly enjoy about Millar’s work is how she leaves you thinking about the social morés of the contemporary world she creates, the mystery and corruption that simmers just under the surface of a gleaming Father Knows Best, I Like Ike, Kennedy’s Camelot world. Don’t get me wrong. No pedantry or preachiness here – just gripping and tantalizing mystery that allows to seep to the surface the hypocrisy of racism, sexism, and materialism suffocating or deforming the souls of women, men, and children. Her strength is in creating a work vibrant for its truth to life by interconnecting the blood, muscle, and flesh of a shrewdly created mystery with the underlying skeleton of social and spiritual corruption. Reading Millar, you don’t feel lectured. Instead, you may close the final page of her mysteries, but you leave haunted by the Truth about the glorified American dream of success and happiness. I can’t wait to read more by her. Fun fact, Millar’s husband Kenneth, also a mystery writer, chose a pen name to establish a separate reputation from her. Now you know where Ross Macdonald came from.
Check out these links for more information:
This LA Review of Books article gives an in-depth, thoughtful look at Millar’s life and writing:
By the way, I am eternally grateful to author Lisa Lieberman (another superb mystery writer) for putting me onto Millar’s track.
Millar image from Women Crime Writers web page cited above.