There’s s a terrific piece at Salon by Scott Timberg about women crime fiction writers, which inspired me to post some Margaret Millar covers. The story is in the form of an interview with Sarah Weinman, the editor of a new collection of 8 classic postwar noir novels written by women. Here’s their exchange about Margaret Millar:
The other names that will jump out to noir fans is Margaret Millar. To what extent was her work shaped by her husband, Ross Macdonald [whose real name was Kenneth Millar]? To what extent did she shape his work? Besides being married, was there a strong literary connection between them?
I find their work to be quite different. It bears pointing out that Margaret was published first and she was successful almost from the get-go. She was the one supporting Ken when he jettisoned the John Ross McDonald [pseudonym] and inhabited Ross Macdonald. It really wasn’t until he kind of threw off the yoke of the Raymond Chandler influence and found his footing.
They were intertwined largely because they were married and had a daughter. Once Linda had the accident and killed this boy, their lives were forever changed. He found psychoanalysis, her work got a lot sharper. You start to see it, not just in “Beast in View” but also later in the ‘50s in “The Listening Walls” and particularly in the ‘60s with books like “Stranger in My Grave,” “How Like an Angel” and “The Fiend,” which is the only book that I can think of a sympathetic fortune of a pedophile, so much so that he is the most pathetic character in the book. Only someone like Margaret Millar could pull that off.
And, she was an excellent plotter. Her stories had great flair, and had great twists but were also interesting from a psychological standpoint. In “Beast in View,” you have this woman who is clearly tortured out of her mind. You have these phone calls, and you also see some of the other things that are going on with her in her life and her family and how this informs the choices that she makes. While the twist may seem unsurprising to savvy readers now, in 1956 it was still pretty fresh.
Okay, y’all it’s Millar time. I bet you saw that joke coming a mile away.
Richard Thompson made a Margaret Millar reference in a creepy 1996 song, Cold Kisses:
And I can hear you turn the key
And my head’s buried when you see me
In a Margaret Millar mystery
I’ll give RT the last word: