Day: March 25, 2020

Margaret Millar (1915-1994)

fe9578ca11275cc636d59786b514330414f6744 (1)Margaret Ellis Millar (née Sturm) was an American-Canadian mystery and suspense writer. Millar was born in Ontario, Canada and was educated at Kitchener-Waterloo Collegiate Institute and the University of Toronto (1933-1936), majoring in classics. In 1938 she married Kenneth Millar (who wrote under the name Ross Macdonald). Together they moved down to Santa Barbara, California, where they would remain for much of the rest of their lives, pursuing writing careers of varying success. She published The Invisible Worm in 1941, written in only fourteen days while recuperating from an illness, which introduced the psychiatrist detective Dr Paul Prye. She also worked as a screenwriter for Warner Brothers. Santa Barbara often appeared in her books variously named Santa Felicia and San Felice. The Millars had a daughter who died in 1970. Millar won the Edgar Best Novel Award twice, in 1956 for her novel Beast in View and 1983 for Banshee, and was shortlisted several times. In 1983 the Canadian writer was awarded the Grand Master Award by the Mystery Writers of America for lifetime achievement. Millar’s cutting wit and superb plotting have left her an enduring legacy as one of the most important crime writers of both her own and subsequent generations. Millar was active in the conservation movement in California. Her observations on the wildlife in the canyons near her home were collected in The Birds and the Beasts Were There (1968). She died in Santa Barbara of a heart attack on 26 March 1994. (Several sources)

Margaret Millar was an amazingly versatile writer. She covered most subgenres and topics in her long career, from stories of domestic terror, aberrant psychological portraits, hardboiled private investigators, police procedurals, legal thrillers and even black comedy. As an author she is difficult to pigeonhole. You never quite know what you will get with one of her novels, so she is always a good bet if you want to be surprised or to try something different. Margaret Millar trained as a psychiatrist, though she never practiced, and the one constant in her writing is her exquisite insight into the troubled human psyche. The dark undercurrents in relationships between people are often the key in crime stories, and in this aspect she second to none.

Margaret Millar’s reputation waned in the 1970s, partly due to her own failing health and less frequent output. She was more often admired and cited rather than read. Her work went out of print for roughly two decades following her death in the early 90s. (Source: Crime Fiction Lover)

Bibliography: The Invisible Worm [Paul Prye Series #1] (1941); The Weak Eyed Bat [Paul Prye Series #2] (1942); The Devil Loves Me [Paul Prye Series #3] (1942); Fire Will Freeze (1944); The Iron Gates (1945) aka Taste of Fears; Do Evil in Return (1950); Rose’s Last Summer (1952); Vanish in an Instant (1952); A Beast in View (1955); An Air That Kills (1957) aka The Soft Talkers; The Listening Walls (1959); A Stranger in My Grave (1960); How Like an Angel (1962); The Fiend (1964); Beyond This Point Are Monsters (1970); Ask for Me Tomorrow (1976); The Murder of Miranda (1979); Mermaid (1982); Banshee (1983); and Spider Webs (1986).

Next 4 August 2020, The Invisible Worm (The first book in the Paul Pyre series) will be available in e-book format, published by Soho Syndicate. I’ve just pre ordered it.

6049295Margaret Millar’s debut novel introduces readers to the psychiatrist Dr. Paul Prye, a cynical man of reason with a penchant for quoting William Blake and making enemies. When Prye finds himself first the suspect in a murder investigation and then the target of the murderer, he quickly sets his powerful mind to the task of solving the case.

Strange currents bring a group of disparate characters to the home of George and Barbara Hays, but it isn’t until one of the guests, Mr. Thomas Phillips, turns up dead that things start to get truly weird. Phillips was a man with a shady past—a womanizer and, rumor has it, a blackmailer. Potential motives, though yet unverified, are legion.

Into this plot comes lanky psychologist Dr. Paul Prye, whom the authorities suspect and who is determined to solve the case himself. Brilliant, cynical, and often trying of his companions’ patience, Prye sets himself to the task at hand, utilizing logic and his ability to psychologically profile, all the while making one enemy after another with his cutting wit.

A little bit Doyle mixed with some Freud and a healthy dash of Oscar Wilde, the Paul Prye mysteries demonstrate that even at the beginning of her career Margaret Millar had the ability to defy the status quo. (Source: Penguin Random House).

You can read Curtis Evans review of The Invisible Worm at The Passing Tramp, here.

John Grant has also reviewed The Invisible Worm here.

A. A. Milne (1882 – 1956)

A_a_milneA.A. Milne, in full Alan Alexander Milne, (born January 18, 1882, London, England—died January 31, 1956, Hartfield, Sussex), was an English playwright and essayist best known today for his children’s books about the teddy bear Winnie-the-Pooh and for various children’s poems. He was born in London and educated at Westminster School and Trinity College Cambridge. He married Dorothy de Sélincourt in 1913 and served in the British Army during WW1. His one detective novel is The Red House Mystery (1922), which features the light-hearted amateur detective Antony Gillingham. Milne’s collection A Table Near the Band (1950) also contains two mystery stories. He also wrote a stage thriller, “The Fourth Wall”, which is of the inverted type – the murder is committed onstage in full view of the audience. (Source: Gadetection).

A.A. Milne’s The Red House Mystery (1922) is an outstandingly plotted novel of the Golden Age of mystery. Milne would be an author whose prestige would have equaled that of Christie, Queen and Carr if he written more mystery novels, but unfortunately this was his only novel in the detective form. Milne instead had several other literary careers, being successively famous as a humorist, a playwright, and a children’s book author (Winnie the Pooh). [Mike Grost, to continue reading please click here].

A.A. Milne is remembered today as the creator of that amiable character Winnie-the Pooh, but he was also fascinated by the detective story. More than that, he ventured into the genre on several occasions, with short stories (including one I think is quite splendid), one or two plays and a novel that many regard as a light-hearted classic of the Golden Age – The Red House Mystery. [Martin Edwards, to continue reading please click here].

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(Facsimile Dust Jacket, Methuen & Co. Ltd. (UK), 1922)

Plot introduction: The setting is an English country house, where Mark Ablett has been entertaining a house party consisting of a widow and her marriageable daughter, a retired major, a wilful actress, and Bill Beverley, a young man about town. Mark’s long-lost brother Robert, the black sheep of the family, arrives from Australia and shortly thereafter is found dead, shot through the head. Mark Ablett has disappeared, so Tony Gillingham, a stranger who has just arrived to call on his friend Bill, decides to investigate. Gillingham plays Sherlock Holmes to his younger counterpart’s Doctor Watson; they progress almost playfully through the novel while the clues mount up and the theories abound. (Source: Wikipedia)

Despite moving on to books for children, Milne retained his ‘passion for detective stories’ and wrote a witty an incisive introduction to a new edition of this novel, four years after its first publication. He insisted that detective fiction should be written in ‘good English’ and abhorred the complication that ensue from ‘love interest’. He favoured amateur detectives and fair play, arguing that ‘the detective must have no more special knowledge than the reader’. Readers should know what was in the detective’s mind, and for that reason a ‘Watson? figure was invaluable: the sleuth must watsonise or soliloquise; the one is merely a dialogue form of the other, and for that, more readable’. (The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books, by Martin Edwards)