Six stories from three distinct phases in the fifty-year career of an MWA Grand Master (1915–94) whose work deserves to be rediscovered.
As editor Nolan points out in his fine introduction, Millar, whose reputation was ultimately eclipsed by that of her husband, Ross Macdonald, established a fiercely loyal following long before he did. Pioneering the psychological suspense thriller in Beast in View (1955), A Stranger in My Grave (1960), and The Fiend (1964), she never wrote the same book twice. The two longest entries in this slender, varied harvest are apprentice work. “Last Day in Lisbon” is an unremarkable, smoothly proficient tale of innocents abroad, a lower-voltage Journey Into Fear. “Mind over Murder,” a whodunit set in the isolated Colony for Mental Hygiene, unwisely meets Agatha Christie on her home turf. Yet it’s more brightly written than And Then There Were None, with more interesting characters. “McGowney’s Miracle,” about an undertaker who wishes his latest client would return to life and then has to deal with the consequences, is a charmer, and the 1987 tailpiece, “Notions,” a dark bagatelle.
But the classics here are Millar’s two midcareer anthology standards: the darkly domestic “The Couple Next Door” and the unclassifiable “The People Across the Canyon,” whose wallop might teach contemporary writers a thing or two about suspense—and whet an appetite for reissuing Millar’s novels.