Margaret Millar, Canadian born, and wife of Ross Macdonald, was a brilliant crime writer. Many people – including me – prefer her books to those of her highly successful and talented husband. My latest contribution to Patti Abbott’s series of Forgotten Books is an early Millar from 1943, Wall of Eyes.
Millar excelled at openings and this book begins splendidly:
‘They moved briskly along the street, the girl carefully indifferent to the stares of the people who passed, the dog unaware of them. He padded along looking neither to the left nor right, his eyes careless and shifty. But when he came to a hole in the sidewalk, he guided Alice around it and she felt the firm gentle tug of his harness and followed him.
I wonder if he knows I’m not blind, Alice thought.’
This strikes me as very clever writing – creating a situation, and then changing the reader’s perspective on it in a single sentence. You really have to keep reading.
Millar’s early detective, Inspector Sands, features in this book: ‘He had no strong sense of identity…Because he lived in a vacuum he was able to understand and tolerate and sometimes to like the strange people he hunted.’ I have always been rather sorry that Millar abandoned Sands, although her later books were, in the main, even better than this one – and this one is very good.
The late reviewer Matthew Coady said: ‘In the whole of crime fiction’s distinguished sisterhood, there is no-one quite like Margaret Millar.’ I agree. Matthew was a terrific judge (not only because he reviewed my debut novel kindly!) and anyone who has not read Margaret Millar has a treat in store.