Open a book this minute and start reading. Don’t move until you’ve reached page fifty. Until you’ve buried your thoughts in print. Cover yourself with words. Wash yourself away. Dissolve. Carol Shields Republic of Love

Margaret Millar’s Vanish in an Instant (1952; 2016)

Margaret Millar’s mysteries are being brought back into print by Soho Syndicate. The Master at Her Zenith volume is comprised of five of her well-known books, including the Edgar-winning Beast in View.

Vintage Margaret Millar Vanish in an InstantThroughout, her interest in psychology is evident. Both she and her characters are fascinated by detail. And the emotions which often erupt in response.

For instance, consider the emotions simmering beneath the surface of this momentary frustration in Vanish in an Instant.

“Neither of the women made any move to take Meecham’s hat or coat, so he laid them across a chair. He was a little irritated because he was sure that the omission on their part was more than a lapse in manners; it was an unconscious expression of their real feeling toward him. He wondered again why Mrs. Hamilton had invited him in for coffee, and why he had accepted against his will.”

This kind of acuity is present in the other mysteries in this omnibus as well. It’s not enough that Meecham’s irritation is noted, but he examines the source of it, teases out the quiet and deadly judgements.

And even in just a few sentences, she is prepared to have a character acknowledge their own inconsistencies. For as irritated as Meecham may be, his actions suggest otherwise. He didn’t want to go for coffee, didn’t want to be subjected to this kind of reluctant tolerance on Mrs. Hamilton’s part, but he did so nonetheless.

There is a place for contradictions in Margaret Millar’s fiction. “A lot of things that  can be proved are not true, and a lot of things that are true can’t be proved.”

And her idea of truth is complex. “The truth lay somewhere between the two extremes like an uncharted island between two shores.”

Which is not to say that the suspense is all cerebral. Blood is spilled.

“Why he had blood all over his clothes, same as you had. They say he’s a nice young man, no record or anything. What amazes me is the amount of blood in a person, it’s simply amazing.”

And occasionally there is a surprising scene, sketched quickly and succinctly.

“They weren’t snowmen. One of them was a lady, with a pink ruffled apron tied around her lumpy waist and a bandana covering her head to hide its baldness. One of her charcoal eyes had fallen out of its melting socket. She had a witch’s nose made out of a carrot and a moist-beet mouth, and stuck in her chest was a long dripping icicle that gleamed in the light like a stiletto with a jeweled handle. The snow-lady seemed to be aware of the wound: her blurred beet-mouth was anguished, and her single eye stared helplessly into the night.”

The emphasis, however, remains on her characters’ psychology rather than their wounds.

“Motion, change, speed, they were essential to Virginia. She should always be on a passing train, one that went round and round the world and never stopped.”

And, in the process, Margaret Millar uses language and imagery deftly to create a mood and enrich scenes.

“Her head was too large for her body and emphasized by thick brown hair that was now burning itself out like a grass-fire and showing streaks of ashes.”

In a room, straight chairs are “lined up against the wall like mute and motionless prisoners”, a woman’s “cry of surprise hung in the air a moment like a question mark of smoke and then disintegrated” and another woman’s control “was slipping down like a zipper under too much pressure”.

These little touches make reading Margaret Millar’s suspense a pleasure to read.

Note: The image for the vintage copy of Vanish in an Instant was discovered on “The Dusty Bookcase: A Casual Exploration of Canada’s Suppressed, Ignored and Forgotten Literature)” in a review well worth reading for Millar fans. Tomorrow’s review will feature the copy I’m reading, one of the reprinted volumes from Syndicate (Soho Press); when you line up the seven spines on your bookshelf, they will complete a suitably menacing/domestic image. How could Margaret Millar fans resist?

Have you read any of Margaret Millar’s mysteries? Do you enjoy other vintage mystery writers?

FacebookTwitterGoogle+PinterestRedditEmailShare

18 comments to Margaret Millar’s Vanish in an Instant (1952; 2016)

  • An author I want to read. My hopes have already been quite high but after reading your post, even more.
    I think I got one on a pile somewhere. The Listening Walls or something like that.

    • I was expecting more of a “jolt” from the vintage-ness of them, but they feel surprisingly contemporary (for the most part); one thing that I like about The Listening Walls (the one I’m reading now, actually) is that it opens from the perspective of a hotel maid, but I think Melwyk might be right (below) in saying that the mystery isn’t as complicated (I think I might have figured it out myself).

  • I’ve heard of Millar but never read her. But her work definitely sounds worth exploring!

  • Her Beast in View has been recommended to me in the past – must get around to reading her one day.

    • She seems like someone you might enjoy! I’d like to go back and read P.D. James book on detective fiction, to see how/if she considered MM therein. In my mind, she seems like Ngaio Marsh and Gladys Mitchell, but I haven’t read all that extensively in crime fiction to know if there are more appropriate connections to draw.

  • I’m not a mystery fan but I love the pulpy cover!

  • […] Margaret Millar’s Vanish in an Instant (1952; 2016) […]

  • That book spine stunt is clever of them. Who wouldn’t want those?

    • The last thing I want to do right now is begin reading new series (when I’m trying so hard to complete reading some of those I’ve started in my lifetime) but the earlier volumes (featuring some of her recurring characters) are just irresistible now. Heheh

  • Beast in View is amazing, what a classic! The Listening Walls isn’t her strongest, in my opinion, but she is such a fine writer anyhow. This set is gorgeous and finally, finally means that Millar is back in print and available to more readers. This makes me happy as I’m a big fan and of course have bought all these new ones… 🙂

  • […] of several volumes in a reprint series from Syndicate (Soho Press). Previous posts have considered Vanish in an Instant and Wives and Lovers and, next week, talk of An Air that […]

  • Wow I haven’t heard of Margaret Millar before, but I do enjoy reading vintage mysteries. Love the cover art too! I mostly read contemporary suspense books now. There’s some thing about the writing style and aesthetics of vintage mystery novels that makes them stand out in the genre. I think that’s why I enjoy suspenseful B&W/classic Hollywood mystery films so much more than modern ones.

    • Isn’t it strange, when you “discover” someone like this, and they’ve written SO many books, but somehow you’ve not heard a word about them even though you consider yourself a big reader? You feel like you’re in danger of losing your “bookworm” badge or something! Classic mystery films are favourites of mine too. I do enjoy contemporary suspense and mystery, too, but I have to be in a certain mood for them (and it often has to be daylight!) whereas I am always in the mood for a B&W horror/mystery and just have to sit down and watch!

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>