Saturday, 9 January 2016

Vanish in an Instant by Margaret Millar: Snowmen



published 1952


Millar Vanish Snowman


The floodlight was on at the entrance gate, and the snow figures stood like sepulchres, one on each side. Loesser had made a mistake about them, though. They weren’t snowmen. One of them was a lady, with a pink ruffled apron tied around her lumpy waist and a bandana covering her head to hide its baldness. One of her charcoal eyes had fallen out of its melting socket. She had a witch’s nose made out of a carrot and a moist beet-mouth, and stuck in her chest was a long dripping icicle that gleamed in the light like a stiletto with a jewelled handle. The snow lady seemed to be aware of the wound: her blurred beet-mouth was anguished, and her single eye stared helplessly into the night.

 
 
Millar Vanish Snowman 2[Later] During the hour he’d been in the house the snowlady had been melting in the soft air like butter in the sun. The icicle was still sticking through her heart, though her nose and her remaining eye had fallen out and the scarf clung moistly to her shrinking head. By morning, if the weather held, she would topple into an indistinguishable mass of gray slush, and no-one would remember her existence except two children.


commentary: Margaret Millar was a remarkable writer: her stories of malice and murder in suburban settings are compelling and as good now as when they were first written. I looked at this one earlier (in fact, twice) and said it gave a picture of miserable marriages and unhappy people.

Everyone drinks a lot, and either hates their closest relations, or is locked in an uncomfortable situation with them. She has turned her cold eye on these people and moves them round in superb plots, and she is a very very good writer.

It has to be said, Millar’s books do not contain many jokes: though this one came close: ‘I know one definition of [being] positive [about a key fact] – being wrong at the top of your voice.’

There are some nice people in the book: the Italians who try to look after Mrs Loftus. Meecham the lawyer hopes they will carry on:
Meecham took $100 out of the envelope and put it on the tray….
‘I’ll give you a receipt,’ Mrs Garino said.
‘that won’t be necessary.’
‘It’s a funny way to do business.’
It’s not business, he thought, it’s life; and it’s not money that’s involved, but human beings. The dainty sandwich with its radish rose couldn’t have been bought for a thousand dollars.



Snowmen are nearly always bad news in crime stories, which I suppose is fair enough. These ones are merely metaphors. In Hilda Lawrence’s Blood Upon the Snow there is a more sinister one, and Nicholas Blake actually has a book called The Case of the Abominable Snowman, so don’t be expecting much innocent fun there.

The main picture is from the Missouri State Archives. The other one is from a postcard from Florida – presumably it was meant to compare unfavourably with the sunshine there, but I think it’s rather charming.








10 comments:

  1. Margaret Millar was really good, in my opinion, at an atmosphere of such underlying menace with comparatively little violence. I really like her ability to write psychological crime fiction on that score. That said though, I did like that witty observation you shared. Her work is the kind of work that you really can read more than once.

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    1. Yes you are so right, there is real depth to her writing, and there are amusing moments...

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  2. I just wish her books were easier to get hold of! I'd no idea snowmen were bad news in crime stories, but you're right, it does make sense. I'm thinking of a Jo Nesbo book, called (I think) The Snowman - I'm afraid that's all I can come up with. And now you've tempted me into looking for a second-hand copy of this Margaret Millar book - I've only got a few!

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    1. Oh great catch on the Nesbo book - I haven't read The Snowman but you definitely wouldn't assume it was a jolly tale... Yes, Millar wrote quite a few, and they are worth looking for I think.

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  3. Interesting that Margaret Millar wrote about very cold climates and more temperate climates like Santa Barbara. This one doesn't sound very pleasant but I still am eager to read it. Of course none of them that I have read are "pleasant."

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    1. No indeed Tracy. I always associate her with California, though she was Canadian originally, wasn't she? so would've known her cold climate.

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  4. I'll try her at some point - probably if I have a book that coincides with the PO meme

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    1. I think when you get to her you will like her - and waiting for one of Rich's years is a really good idea.

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  5. P.J.Tracy's Snowblind has dodgy snowmen too.

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    1. ... makes notes for next year's bloodthirsty yet seasonal offerings....

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