Beast In View – Margaret Millar

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My interest in this author was piqued when I read in one of the numerous crime newsletters I subscribe to that all of her books were going to be reissued in 2015, and that she had been the wife of Ross MacDonald (real name Kenneth Millar.) When I was a child, I remember always seeing Ross MacDonald books when looking for something to buy in our local bookshop (Alistair MacLean also featured heavily!) By the time I was old enough to read him, MacDonald had all but disappeared from bookshops, but I’ve since read a couple of his and really enjoyed them. So I was interested to see what I’d make of his wife’s writing. I chose Beast In View as it seemed to have the best ratings on Amazon – although, to be fair, they all had pretty good reviews.

Beast In View would probably be called a novella nowadays – it clocks in at just 170 pages, and reads very quickly, so you whizz through it in a couple of hours. Not a word is really wasted, though – even at the beginning we are launched straight into the story. It’s about Helen Clarvoe, a thirty-year-old, somewhat unattractive, heiress who lives alone in a hotel, rarely going out, and only communicating with her stockbroker and estranged mother and brother, and then by letter. It becomes apparent that Helen has been left her late father’s fortune, causing animosity with her mother. Her brother appears to be unable to settle to any profession, and had married, although the marriage was later annulled, for reasons which soon become apparent. He’s certainly Mrs Clarvoe’s favourite of her two children, to the extent she smothers him. Helen has no friends, and clearly suffers from some kind of nervous problem, rarely, if ever, leaving her hotel room.

One evening, she receives a phone call from a woman called Evelyn Merrick, who describes herself as an old friend and clearly expects Helen to recall her, although Helen claims not to. The call becomes threatening, with Evelyn saying that she has a crystal ball and can see Helen in it, “…mutilated. Your forehead is slashed open, your mouth is bleeding, blood, blood all over, blood all over…”

Helen is so disturbed by this phone call that she writes to the only person she feels she can ask for help – her financial advisor, Mr Blackshear. He reluctantly comes to see her, and she reveals that, as well as receiving the threatening phone call, she believes someone has been stealing from her, as almost $900 is missing from her hotel room. His advice, naturally, is to contact the police, but Helen has another plan to which he reluctantly agrees – to track down the mysterious Evelyn Merrick, as Helen is certain she means to cause her harm.

In the phone call, Evelyn claimed that one day she would be, “…famous; my body will be in every art museum in the country.” This gives Blackshear somewhere to start, and so he goes through the phone book looking for modelling schools, until her name is recognized at the Lydia Hudson School Of Charm And Modelling. Here an equally odd picture emerges of Miss Merrick; she had told Miss Hudson she wanted to be “immortal”. Miss Hudson also gives Blackshear a couple of other leads: photographers; one which Evelyn Merrick had claimed to have done work for; and another to which Miss Hudson sent her in the hope he could offer her employment. Blackshear continues to follow the trail, and soon discovers Helen Clarvoe’s fears are well-founded – Evelyn Merrick is clearly a very disturbed individual. But is her mischief making confined to making threatening phone calls? If not, what is she planning? And for whom?

I rather enjoyed this book, which certainly kept me guessing and turning the pages, and I must say the twist in the tale was a genuine shock. I’d certainly like to read more of her work (she was quite a prolific author – there are 26 books listed in the front of this one.) However, I’ll probably wait until they’re reissued next year, as I have a sizeable TBR pile right now – a problem I’m sure many of my fellow bloggers can sympathize with (I’m thinking of you, FictionFan, although you and I are certainly not alone!)

For those specifically interested in Ross MacDonald, there’s a rather good article I stumbled upon from The Guardian at:

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2009/aug/01/ross-macdonald-crime-novels

Please leave me any of your thoughts, recommendations, or just random…stuff. All of it is hugely appreciated!

12 thoughts on “Beast In View – Margaret Millar

    • I do love a good twist, especially when you’re really not expecting it (what I do hate though is when an author writes an utterly implausible ending as they obviously feel under pressure to end on a dramatic high – The Killer Next Door immediately springs to mind!)

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    • I’ve read so many other bloggers talk about how they take days to write each blog entry, but I feel guilty as I tend to just “chew over” the book, metaphorically obviously!, for a couple of days, then , well, write what I think, altering it very little afterwards…I’m in envy of some of the bloggers’ skill with words, but I’ve never studied Eng Lit beyond A-level, and that was a long time ago! Hopefully my writing will improve the more blogging I do!

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  1. Terrific! I’m so glad you reviewed this one so that other readers can discover her work. The twist got me too. I was so caught up in the story that I didn’t see it coming. Like you, I’ll wait till more of her work is reissued. Def. want to read more.

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    • Yep I’d definitely like to read more of her stuff – I really whizzed through this one too, one of the books I keep reading while I’m waiting for the kettle to boil, the washing machine door to click open etc…no wonder I never have time to put my makeup on properly before I leave the house; I’ve always got my nose in a book! If I didn’t have so much on my TBR pile I’d happily buy more of her work; it can probably be picked up cheaply second hand – but it’ll be nice to get it in the reissued format, with covers all matching! That was a great post of yours, and a nice coincidence!

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      • Ha, I bought a couple of them second hand, too, but prefer digital. Def. want to support their efforts in republishing her books. Thanks!

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      • Me too, I’ll probably try and collect them all – within reason! I love having books which “match” on the shelves – Penguin are great for colour co-ordination!

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    • Thanks, Jose – and thanks for the mention on your blog! Really looking forward to the reissue of her back catalogue. I found another at my parents’ – Ask For Me Tomorrow – in a really naff 70s Keyhole Crime cover. If I didn’t know the name, I would have dismissed it as rubbish, but I spirited it home with me! Still to read that one though. I enjoy Ross MacDonald too – in the late 70s/early 80s, his books were ubiquitous in our local bookshop, but they’d pretty much gone out of fashion by the time I was old enough to read them. I remember seeing loads of his, and Alistair MacLean’s, back then.

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