Clues, Spring 2007 - Margaret Millar
I've spoken here many times of my admiration for the novels of Margaret Millar. Her fate seems to be that of great if only occasional press but not many readers. She won an Edgar, she was frequently judged to be as good a writer as her husband Ken Millar (Ross Macdonald), and her books are dazzlers both as stories and exemplars of witty and sometimes mordant style.
I also once said that there are writers too good for the masses and I sometimes wonder if Millar isn't one of them. She makes few concessions to the commercial mystery. Her people are very much her own. In this regard she reminds me of someone I'm sure she read early in her career, Elizabeth Sanxay Holding. Her characters are unique to genre fiction, drawn from life rather than books. And I'm pretty sure this is off-putting to readers who want the familiar types we find in so much commercial fiction.
I'm saying all this because I've just finished reading the Spring 2007 issue of Clues, which is mostly devoted to Millar. Editor Dean James has put together the most interesting, enlightening and memorable work I've ever seen about her. Tom Nolan, who wrote the outstanding biography of Ross Macdonald a few years back, takes us here into the heart of lives of two writers who are not only husband and wife but (as a Millar quote gently suggests) competitors. A fine fine piece.
Ana Patricia Rodriguez, on the other hand, gives us a polemic on Millar's view of Mexicans and Mexico as found in her Tom Aragon novels and in the standalone BEYOND THIS POINT ARE MONSTERS. Rodriguez is indusputably correct. Millar's writing reflected the opinions of many white, middle-class (or upper-middle-class) Californians. Their misgivings about the immigrants weren't expressed in any "common" vulgar way but you do see in Millar's writing the disdain she and her crowd felt for them.
The essay by Kelly C. Connelly compares the psychologoy in Dorothy Sayers to the psychology of Millar. And Dean James tells us which Millar books are in print.
Robert Barnard takes a sage look at Millar's final novels, among them the sinfully overlooked THE MURDER OF MIRANDA. For one thing, the sections dealing with the poisoned pen writer at the country club are among the most savagely bitchy (and hilarious) moments in all of Millar's writing. And for another, I've rarely seen a more moving portrait of a beautiful woman who is losing the one thing she's depended on all her life--her looks, The twins here are out of the black humor of Terry Southern. Barnard's as good a critic as he is a novelist and short story writer. I put him at the top in all three categories.
There's also a Caren J. Town piece on the racism and sexism that Deborah Knott must face in the excellent novels by Margaret Maron. "The Same old Same old" says it all.
Quite an issue. In fact, one of the best Clues I've ever read.