on 22 June 1999
More than a mystery this is a gothic chiller with a modern twist. Even more than 40 years after it was written, it still holds its spell. Helen Clarvoe is being stalked by a female psycho, who might or might-not be a childhood friend. Meanwhile Evelyn Merrick (or someone who claims to be her) is closing in on Helen, a wealthy heiress absconded in a hotel in L.A.
Who's the hunter? Who's the prey?
This horrifying story will grab you and won't let go till the gory, devastating and haunting conclusion... but do not peek! The narrative will take you there.
Paul Blackshear is a 50 year old semi-retired 'investment counsellor' who is finding that in life 'nothing was new anymore'. When Helen. a long-standing wealthy client and widower asks for his help to stop nuisance calls, Paul jumps at the chance to 'do something better than collecting stamps'. The source of the calls is Helen's erstwhile childhood pal Evelyn Merrick who is intimidating several other family and friends with bizarre threats.
As Evelyn's behaviour becomes more deranged Paul is convinced she has a 'multiple personality disorder' but can he stop her as she stalks her prey like a beast in view?
This is a very spooky 1950's crime thriller set in Los Angeles. However there are several oddly English, or at least non-American, phrases and idioms which tend to betray Ms Millar's Canadian roots. It is also very racy for its time with Helen's brother open to bribery following 'some highly exaggerated incident in the locker room' and a shocking sexual assault on Helen by a gross lesbian masseuse.
One cover reviewer describes this novel as 'a conjuring trick'. There is a trick but it is one I did not foresee and much credit to Ms Millar for that. It is a crime novel rather than a 'whodunnit'.
There is some excellent descriptive writing on insanity as the abusive telephone calls escalate from the womb-like security of the phone booth. Evelyn's behaviour becomes more intimidating as she tells passers-by that she is 'waterproof' and listens to 'the clicking in my mind'.
The book is slightly dated and could have been even braver at the finish. It is relatively short, no padding, no fat but quite seedy and racy. It may be a conjuring trick and I applaud Ms Millar as the magician.
Margaret Millar's 1955 novel, "Beast in View" is the third of four novels included in a new Library of America anthology, "Women Crime Writers: Four Suspense Novels of the 1950s". The LOA book is part of a two-volume box set with the first book including four novels by women crime writers from the 1940s. Sarah Weinman, an authority on women's suspense fiction selected the contents and edited both volumes.
The "Beast in View", the title of a poem by Muriel Rukeyser, refers in this book not to an animal seen on the outside but to the self. Although crime has a large role in the book, the primary theme is internal and psychological, about anger, alienation, and loneliness. Set in 1950s Los Angeles, virtually every character in the book suffers from being alone and from loss. The novel begins with a lonely, wealthy spinster, Helen Clarvoe, 30, received a mysterious threatening call from a woman who identifies herself as Evelyn Merrick, an old friend. Helen is frightened and turns to the only person she remotely trusts, her investment advisor, Paul Blackshear, 50. Blackshear is a widower, semi-retired, and fearful of how he will fill the hours of his retirement. He agrees to help Helen find the woman who harassed her. The search takes Blackshear and the reader through seedy bars, pornographic photography studios, and into Helen Clarvoe's dysfunctional family. The book takes its characters through dark alleys filled with alley cats, cold streets, massage parlors and brothels. The book shows frigidity, harsh judgmentalism, and sexual perversion for its day. It gradually descends into a world of suicide, murder, and madness. Millar writes with great detail and perception about her characters, both major and minor, with psychological insight and descriptions of place filling every page. The novel is a disturbing book about the mysteries of the heart and about the consequences of the lack of love that rises above the genre of suspense fiction.
The LOA volume includes a biographical sketch of the author. Millar (1915 -- 1994) was born in Canada but lived most of her life in the United States. She studied ancient Greek and the classics in college but soon turned to the writing of suspense fiction. Millar received the Edgar Award for best mystery novel for "Beast in View and was named Grand Master of the Mystery Writers of America in 1983. Millar's husband, Kenneth Millar, also was a celebrated author of suspense fiction under the penname Ross MacDonald. The LOA has published two volumes of MacDonald's novels.
Millar's novel, which currently is out-of-print as an individual volume in the United States, explores dark places and deserves to be made accessible and read. The LOA and Weinman have done a service by including "Beast in View" in their anthology of women's suspense writing. The LOA has kindly provided me with a review copy of its two-volume box set. I have enjoyed learning about Millar and about the other authors included in the collection.
This is my first acquaintance with the prolific Margaret Millar. I enjoyed the book, reading it in one sitting. It is exceptionally easy to read and makes few demands on the reader. The premise on which the story rests is distinctive and the plot is well-handled. The characters are two dimensional and the setting makes little contribution to the impact, which rests very much on the twists in the plot and on suspense. In these respects it succeeds. While it certainly isn't great literature, it makes few pretensions to be so. Of course I don’t know how representative of Millar’s books this is, whether for instance she is drawn to unusual psychological states or whether this would be rated as one of her best novels. It’s a book to curl up with when you have a few hours to spare on a cold winter’s night.
on 20 April 2014
I love discovering books like this, by authors I've never read.
The Beast in View puts into mind the thriller heydays of Hitchcock, 50's America. Their is a terrfying undertone in this book, similiar to 'The Birds' in the early part of the film.
Written in a sparse style the book builds on atmosphere and it works by trying not to be too smart with the plot, working more on the character.