Saturday, 24 November 2018

MARGARET MILLAR - VANISH IN AN INSTANT (1952)


Synopsis/blurb....

Virginia Barkeley is a nice, well brought-up girl. So what is she doing wandering through a snow storm in the middle of the night and covered in someone else's blood?

When Claude Margolis' body is found a quarter of a mile away with half-a-dozen stab wounds to the neck, suddenly Virginia doesn't seem like such a nice girl after all. Her only hope is Meecham, the cynical small-town lawyer hired as her defence. But how can he believe in Virginia's innocence when even she can't be sure what happened that night? And when the answer seems to fall into his lap, why won't he just walk away?

My first outing with Margaret Millar, but definitely not my last after this extremely satisfying read.

Claude Margolis is stabbed to death. Virginia Barkeley is found nearby covered in blood and confused. Virginia doesn't know what happened, she might have done it, but can't remember. Virginia's husband, Paul thinks she might have done it as well. Virginia's mother, Mrs Hamilton rushes to town and hires a lawyer Eric Meecham to help Virginia. Another man, Earl Loftus then confesses to the crime.

Virginia is in the clear, but Meecham like a dog with a bone, won't let it go and continues to dig, fearing that Loftus has been paid by Mrs Hamilton to take the fall. Loftus is dying from an incurable disease and shortly afterwards hangs himself in his cell. And still Meecham persists in asking questions. Millar slowly widens the cast of characters to include, Loftus' bereft landlady and shifty husband, Loftus' alcoholic mother and landlords, Virginia's husband who we only saw fleetingly initially, as well as his staff and Mrs Hamilton's travelling companion, Alice.

In the end we get most if not all of the answers Meecham is seeking, but it's the journey with Meecham that I enjoyed so much. There's a doggedness and a tenacity to his pursuit of answers, but it's done with such gentleness and humanity and with great consideration for the frailty and suffering and pain of others, that you can't help but be feel that sympathy yourself to all involved, including the guilty.

Along the way he has time to appreciate the charms of Mrs Hamilton's young companion ...

Then he turned his head and looked at Alice.........Some day, some remote day when he had surplus time and money, he might go to see her. She might be married, by that time, married and with a couple of children; a placid contented matron, shopping, going to the movies, lying in the sun. This projection into the future was so vivid, his sense of loss so acute, that he felt a tide of rage rise in him, rise and ebb, leaving a taste of salt.

You can't help but wish them a happy ever after, when the attraction proves mutual.

Superb writing, superb plotting, hugely sympathetic characters - even the rich mother who thinks money can solve everything, wonderful insights into the human heart, great observations, and I got bamboozled at the death, with the outcome - incorrectly guessing the guilty at least twice along the way.

Bloody marvellous.

4.5 from 5

Margaret Millar wrote over twenty five novels in her lifetime, which happily leaves me plenty more to discover. She may help cure me of my aversion to pre-1970s books.

Read in November, 2018
Published - 1952 (republished by Pushkin Vertigo 2018)
Page count - 256
Source - review copy from publisher (thanks to Tabitha Pelly)
Format - paperback

11 comments:

  1. Millar really was a talented writer, Col. I'm very happy that you liked this one as well as you did. I think what I like best about her work is the psychological suspense that builds up. For me, anyway, she was especially good at that.

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    1. Margot, I do hope to enjoy more from her in the future. She might have me hooked after just one book.

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  2. Excellent! This is definitely where our tastes collide, so glad you like Millar, she is such a good writer. And, a book that I've already read and an author I know, so no additions to the TBR.

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    1. Yay! I enjoyed this one so much more than I thought I would, it was a real eye-opener for me.

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  3. Glad you enjoyed this one. It was my second encounter with this author. The first was A Stranger in my Grave, which you might enjoy as well.

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    1. Kate thanks for stopping by and commenting. I'll have a look at the one you recommend. I have a few on the pile and on order, but I don't think that is one of them.

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  4. Col – I don’t recall reading this one. Thanks for the review.

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    1. Elgin, I really liked it, you could do a lot worse than read it.

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  5. I have not read this one but I do like Millar's writing. I will have to find a copy of this one. Actually I have a copy but it is in a collection with tiny print and I will have to have better copy to be able to read it.

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    1. The print in this one was fine for me, because my copy was only just been re-issued this year. I know exactly what you mean with older books and tiny print. They just don't lend themselves to getting read over a winter's evening.

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