Beast in View

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by Margaret Millar

A telephone call sets this story in motion. The recipient is Helen Clarvoe. The caller purports to be her old high school friend Evelyn Merrick.

Helen is a permanent resident of the Monica Hotel.  She moved there a week after her late father’s funeral the previous year, leaving her shallow mother and homosexual brother behind in the Clarvoe family home in Beverly Hills.

Helen is tall, pale and graceless. Without close friends, estranged from her family and reclusive, she is a vulnerable and fearful woman.

When she lies to her surprise caller about knowing Evelyn, the caller becomes aggressive and tells Helen she can see Helen in her crystal ball. The caller says she sees that Helen’s been in an accident “You are mutilated. Your forehead is slashed open, your mouth is bleeding, blood, blood all over blood all over . . .”

Unsure where to turn, Helen contacts her investment advisor Paul Blackshear. At 50, Blackshear is a widower whose sons have started families of their own. He is retiring from his business by degrees and finds himself bored with life. Blackshear meets with Helen. When she begs him to protect her from Evelyn Merrick, he is at first reluctant and then realizes he has the time and he’s intrigued.

This is a masterfully twisted book. Millar was renowned for her deep psychological characterization, which shines in this book. She has a spare, literary style that is reminiscent of Ernest Hemingway’s for its economy and vividness. Most of her novels end with a stunning surprise.

As “Grantchester” writer Joshua St. Johnston described it, “Her books are real page-turners . . . Because she’s laid the groundwork so well, the twist never feels forced — it was hidden in plain sight all along. Genius.”
Margaret Millar is a writer who deserves much more attention than she has received in recent years. Her prose is a joy to read and her plots are marvelously entertaining.


The Author: Margaret Millar (1915-1994)

Born in Canada, Margaret Millar moved to the United States after marrying her husband Kenneth, better known to mystery readers as Ross Macdonald. The couple lived for decades in Santa Barbara, which was used as a locale in her later novels under the names of San Felice or Santa Felicia.
As a writer she is known for “both expressive description and economy.” Her books are always rich in characterization, often delving deep into complex interior worlds. Her characters are often loners or people who don’t fit in well in either society or their surroundings. Her characters often grapple with issues of class, insecurity, failed ambitions, loneliness, isolation and paranoia.
She was ahead of her time in writing about women. She was given a “Woman of the Year Award” by the Los Angeles Times in 1965. She is known for her surprise endings, which could be solved by the extremely alert reader of clues.

In 1983, she was given the Grand Master Award by the Mystery Writers of America in recognition of her lifetime achievements. Four years later, critic and mystery writer H.R.F. Keating included Beast in View in his “Crimes & Mystery: The 100 Best Books,” noting, “Margaret Millar is surely one of late twentieth-century crime fiction’s best writers, in the sense that the actual writing in her books, the prose, is of superb quality. On almost every page of this one there is some description, whether of a physical thing or a mental state, that sends a sharp ray of extra meaning into the reader’s mind.”

Beast in View and her book Rose’s Last Summer were adapted for the television series “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” and “Thriller.”


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