THE SITE FOR DIE HARD CRIME & THRILLER FANS
iBookKindlePrintReviews

Vanish in an Instant

2 Mins read

Written by Margaret Millar — Here at Crime Fiction Lover we have openly declared our love and admiration for Margaret Millar’s versatility and deft hand with suspense. Her novels are always finely-tuned and guaranteed to have you on edge. Sadly, most of her work has been out of print for a decade or two, or else only available in chunky volumes of collected works. So, it is encouraging to see her moving back to the mainstream with a reissue of the 1952 novel Vanish in an Instant thanks to Pushkin Vertigo. It’s one of her best-known works.

The story appears to be quite simple initially – a cut-and-dried case of drunken passion gone wrong. Claude Margolis is a womaniser, so when his body is found with vicious stab wounds to his neck, no-one is very surprised. What is surprising, however, is that his killer is Virginia Barkeley, an elegant and well raised doctor’s wife in the small town of Arbana, just 20 miles to the west of Detroit. Virginia is found wandering through a snow storm the night Margolis is murdered, blind drunk and covered in blood. She cannot remember what happened, but it appears that she was Margolis’ lover. Soon she is in police custody.

Virginia’s formidable mother marches into town to try and save her beloved child. She hires Eric Meecham to defend her daughter. Meecham is a local lawyer with one severe flaw: he cannot settle for the obvious explanation. He has to keep on digging and questioning, even when the answers get less and less convenient. Then, a strange-looking, soft-spoken man appears whose confession changes everything.

The book starts out almost as a comedy with the appearance of the overbearing Mrs Hamilton, Virginia’s mother, then morphs into a suspense novel with elements similar to a Golden Age murder mystery. But just a few chapters in, it becomes a study of psychological dependency and the drifting lives of losers. Millar was an acute observer of both individual psychology and social constraints, and she blends the two here with her customary page-turning abilities.

In other novels, the Canadian author Millar uses a more expansive style as she delves deep into her protagonists’ psyche. What is striking in this novel is how much is left unsaid in both dialogue and description. We are not privy to what goes on behind the facade and only get to observe the characters’ actions. In this respect, Vanish in an Instant is reminiscent of Jean-Patrick Manchette’s Fatale. (Interestingly, the French author modelled his work on American hardboiled detective fiction.) Every turn of the head, every hesitation, every furtive tear leaves an impression and makes us wonder. There is so much that is simmering, repressed, under the surface. Margaret Millar is certainly the queen of the minute details.

Another thing which makes her a very modern author, although she wrote the bulk of her work in the 1940s and 50s, is her ease with moral ambiguity. None of her characters are perfect, nothing is clear cut or black and white. There is one perfect quote in the book which illuminates Millar’s entire approach to writing crime fiction: “Where did you get the idea that there are only white saints and black sinners in this world?” Morality has its limitations and truth is complex and anything but comforting.

For more unusual and classic examples of noir, you could try Simenon’s Dirty Snow, or Patricia Highsmith’s The Two Faces of January.

Pushkin Vertigo
Print/Kindle/iBook
£4.74

CFL Rating: 5 Stars

Related posts
Recommended

The Captive

After the lockdowns we’ve endured, how would you feel if you were forced by the justice system to host a caged prisoner in your home? This is what happens to Hannah in Deborah O’Connor’s thriller, when she is effectively handed a life sentence, as she…
iBookKindlePrintReviews

Like Flies from Afar by K Ferrari

Translated by Adrian Nathan West — It’s difficult to know where to begin when discussing this short novel from Argentina. Is it a sharp piece of pulp exploitation? It is certainly full of sex, drugs and violence, and the quotes at the beginning from David…
iBookKindlePrintReviews

The Little Lies by Valerie Keogh

An eye-catching cover showing two sweet, tiny, baby shoes in the palest blue sets out the stall for this psychological thriller. The ‘little secrets’ of the title must include an infant, right? But Valerie Keogh is such a tease! She wrong-foots the reader from the…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Crime Fiction Lover