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.

3 thoughts on “Margaret Millar (1915-1994)”

  1. I’ve wondered about Margaret Millar since hearing Richard Thompson’s song ‘Cold Kisses’ in which the creepy protagonist goes through his partner’s stuff when she’s popped out of the house. On hearing her return, ‘My head’s buried, when you see me, in a Margaret Millar mystery’. Thanks for telling us more about her

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