How Like An Angel
by Margaret Millar
“It doesn’t look like much of a road.”
“It’s not supposed to. The people who live at the end of it don’t like to advertise the fact. Let’s just say they’re peculiar.”
So begins Margaret Millar’s 1962 novel How Like an Angel. The story concerns freshly penniless private eye Joe Quinn’s chance encounter with cult member Sister Blessing. Their brief interaction leads to a twisty missing persons case in the sunbaked, Californian oil town of Chicote. As written by Mrs. Millar, the central mystery and the path Quinn takes in his investigations would be interesting enough on their own. However, her creation of an isolated religious group that factors heavily into the plot gives this novel a unique feel and heightens the strangeness of the story.
Unlike her husband, Kenneth Millar (writing as Ross Macdonald), who is known primarily for his ‘Lew Archer’ series of hardboiled detective novels, Margaret’s mysteries rarely feature repeat protagonists. That really isn’t a drawback. As she demonstrates here with typically complex and realistic characters, she has a penchant for creating believable people.
But the real appeal of this particular author is her ability to combine this kind of characterization with masterfully plotted storylines of mystery and psychological suspense. The consistency with which she wields this talent places her firmly in the bittersweet category of the under-appreciated.
It’s high time any mystery lovers who haven’t yet experienced Margaret Millar’s grasp of the art form do so now. And why not start with this?