Thursday, November 19, 2015

Forgotten Books: How Like An Angel by Margaret Millar

How Like an Angel

I've always held the opinion that some writers are just too good for the mass market. This is a true of a number of literary writers but it's also true of at least one writer of crime fiction, the late Margret Millar. For all her many deserved awards, she never became the enormous commercial success she deserved to be.

For me she's the single most elegant stylist who ever shaped a mystery story. You revel in her sentences. She used wit and dark humor in the direst of novels long before it was fashionable in the genre. And she was a better (and much fairer) bamboozler than Agatha Christie.

I recently reread her How Like and Angel and its richness, its darkness, its perverse wit make me repeat what I've said many times before--if this isn't the perfect mystery novel, it comes damned close.

The story, complex as it becomes, is simple in its set-up. Private eye Joe Quinn, having gambled away all his money, begins hitchiking from Reno to Caifornia. Along the way he sees the Tower, the symbol of a religious cult that eventually offers him not only shelter but a chance to put his skills to use. Sister Blessing asks him to find a man named Patrick O'Gorman. The man is dead. Which makes Quinn suspicious of why they want him located.

Among its many pleasures is the way this novel, published in the early sixties, anticipates some of the fringe cults that would grow out of the flower power days. There's more than a touch of ole Charlie Manson in the Tower.

Call your favorite mystery bookstore for this one. If they don't have it, I'm sure they can get it. I think you'll be as amazed by it as I am. This is one of the most artfully rendered novels of any kind I've ever read.


Brian Busby said...

"For me she's the single most elegant stylist who ever shaped a mystery story." I agree. "Arguably, the most talented English-Canadian woman writer of her generation", was how I described her in the entry I penned for The Canadian Encyclopedia. Sadly, she's even more neglected on my side of the border.

Mathew Paust said...

I'll bet you turned her pages lickety split to find out just what in hell did happen to Patrick O'Gorman! Must admit, sheepishly of course, I haven't read any of Margaret's mysteries--yet, even tho I've known for quite a while she was Ross MacDonald's wife. Looks like I have some catching up to do. In fact, I, too, have a sense of urgency now to find out just what in hell happened to Patrick O'Gorman, and why.

Unknown said...

OK so I'm somewhat prejudiced. I reprinted a number of Maggie Millar's novels and I also considered her a friend. A good liberal, Maggie was delighted to discover the area in which she placed the cult later turned out to be known as Reagan's Western White House.
Sidelight: During the years I worked with her, Maggie very reluctantly agreed to interviews. I've told you this before, Ed but the only interview she enjoyed was the one she did with you. Reprint?

Ed Gorman said...

I'll see if I can locate it, Mr. Unknown and if I can I'll reprint it. Thanks and I hope this finds you well and preparing.