The Library of America has published Ross Macdonald: Four Novels of the 1950s (edited by Tom Nolan), elevating Ross Macdonald--the pseudonym of Kenneth Millar--to its ultimate crime fiction pantheon, along with Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Elmore Leonard and David Goodis; while they have given Margaret Millar a single spot in their Women Crime Writers: Eight Suspense Novels of the 1940s and 50s (edited by Sarah Weinman).
See links to these volumes here and here. A Sixties Ross Macdonald collection from the LOA is forthcoming.
The Millars also feature prominently in the recently published Meanwhile There Are Letters, a collection, co-edited by Tom Nolan, of the correspondence between Eudora Welty and Kenneth Millar. I will be reviewing this book soon.
As any reader of Tom Nolan's biography of Ross Macdonald or Meanwhile There Are Letters will know, the Millars' later years were marked by personal tragedy and physical debilities (the death of their troubled only child, Linda, Kenneth's Alzheimer's and Margaret's cancer and macular degeneration).
Kenneth Millar published his last Ross Macdonald detective novel, The Blue Hammer, in 1976, before Alzheimer's closed his world in on him; but Millar managed to produce five more crime novels between 1976 and 1986, three of which are, I think, up to the standards of her earlier work, some of the greatest crime fiction in the genre.
One of these better late novels is Margaret Millar's penultimate crime tale, Banshee, published the year of her husband's death. This novel has been praised by my friend Jeffrey Marks, who has written about Millar in his book on mid-century American women crime writers, Atomic Rennaissance, and I second that praise.
Pavane pour une infant defunte, which is explicitly referenced by a character in the book, though he credits the work to Claude Debussy.
The first chapter of Banshee details a week in the life of Annamay Hyatt, the indulged eight-year-old daughter of the wealthy Kay and Howard Hyatt. Dubbed the princess by Millar, Annamay even has her own "castle" playhouse specially commissioned for her by an architect friend of the Kays, Benjamin York. Annamay is a "golden child" as the phrase goes, and the reader likes her too, as she is charmingly portrayed by Millar.
Sadly, Annamay vanishes one day; and the second chapter details the child's funeral, her bones having been discovered near the Hyatt estate, "a mile or so up the creek under a pile of forest litter covered by a tangle of poison oak. The poison oak was red with autumn by this time and very pretty."
|We have always lived in a castle....|
The mystery puzzle element in Banshee is quite well done, with Christie-esque traps for the reader and a twisty solution that surprised me, even though the clues are there; but the tale also has notable psychological depth. Though a short novel, around 60,000 words, there's as much insight into people as you get in some modern crime tomes that are twice or even thrice as long.