Winner of the the 1956 Edgar Allan Poe Award

And that is why I read the wrong book for #1956club. I didn’t pay attention to the fact that it was originally published in 1955. Ah well …

Once upon a time I put together a fair collection of the Orion Crime Masterworks series, but lost interest due to the lack of editorial introductions, which I felt would have turned the series into a seminal overview of classic noir. So gradually I whittled the collection down to a bare handful of titles. Beast In View was one I kept.

It is my second Margaret Millar, and I expecting it to be a great read following my previous reading of Vanish In An Instant. I didn’t find it as emotionally involving, but it didn’t disappoint.

Helen Carvoe, at the age if 30, is a rich, lonely spinster, estranged from her mother and brother. His marriage has been annulled due to closet homosexuality. One day, completely out of the blue, Helen receives a phone call from her ex sister-in-law, Evelyn Merrick. It is the beginning of a terror campaign. With no friends to rely on, Helen turns to a business associate of her father, Paul Blackshear, and asks him to track down her tormentor.

However, Helen is not the only victim. There is one very sick woman on the loose, and a number of incidents show how an embittered mind can twist events to destroy the wellbeing and peace of others. Soon, however, words are not enough. One person is murdered, another driven to suicide by the malicious unearthing of personal secrets. And when Helen, herself, is kidnapped, drugged and comes round in an unsavoury massage parlour, it becomes obvious where this campaign of terror is leading.

Millar wastes no time. Helen receives the initial call on page one. Thereafter, frequent shifts in POV make this a slippy tale to catch hold of, but the clues are there. Certain details do not correspond when a second eye is cast upon them, and as the drama escalates there are just one or two details that simply cannot be. If you catch a glimpse of these (and admittedly the moments are very fleeting) then the denouement does not come as a surprise.

Nevertheless Beast In View is an excellent portrayal of a condition that is frequently handled in modern day crime fiction: multiple personality disorder. Margaret Millar blazing a trail in 1956, sorry, 1955, and demonstrating why her fiction remains relevant and fascinating today.

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