Thursday, July 26, 2012

61. The Murder of Miranda by Margaret Millar

The Murder of Miranda is one of Millar's later books. I found a well-read library hardback in the Maritimes, notable for a cool picture of the author on the back with her 3-month old Newfoundland (the dog, not a real Newfie that she imported for her pleasure).  She looks like a pleasant, older lady next door except for a certain tightness around the mouth and an intelligence in the eyes that one would expect from someone who has peered into the darkness and weakness of men's souls and not turned away.

In the Murder of Miranda we have more darkness and weakness, especially weakness.  Everybody is broken, flailing around in life, desperately grabbing what weird pleasure their twisted hearts allow them.  The story takes place in and around a private beach club in San Felice on the central Californian coast.  Miranda Shaw is the attractive but aging wife of an old millionaire.  She is obsessed with preserving her beauty.  When her husband dies, she expects to become a wealthy widow.  She takes up with the young, handsome life guard.  There are many other storylines and characters circling around hers: the club administration made up of the burnt out manager and his efficient but jealous assistant (also seduced by the life guard), the poison pen writer Mr. Van Eyck, his wealthy sister who is married to a retired naval officer and has two full-grown but weirdly childlike daughters and finally the juvenile delinquent who longs for attention from the life guard while he makes life hell for everyone else in the club.  The whole thing is anchored more or less by junior lawyer Tom Aragon, who is responsible for overseeing Miranda Shaw's estate.  Part of that responsibility is finding her and telling her that her husband actually died in total bankruptcy and that she would not be receiving anything.

Where does the murder of Miranda come in?  Well you'll just have to read and find out.  Suffice it to say that this is not a conventional mystery story.  Millar plays with the structure here in a way that had me a bit befuddled until the end where I would have laughed out loud with the cleverness except that it was just so bleak and nasty.  This one reminded me a lot of Vanish in an Instant, where the investigator was also a young lawyer moving among a tangled nest of crazy, broken people.  Here, though, we aren't distracted by an arbitrary love.  Aragon is married and faithful, but his wife is off getting a degree for a year.  This allows him to remain even more disinterested in the case.  You don't find out much about Tom Aragon, he doesn't wax philosophical and barely even gets involved beyond just finding people and talking to them.  I found there was a certain absence of a protagonist because of that, but it does allow for a more objective view onto the flaws of humanity.


Ed Gorman said...

You're fast becoming my favorite reviewer. Seriously. Wish I had your skills. I'm a huge Millar fan and Miranda is one of me favorite of her books because she took so many risks and pulled them of. Her portrait of that country club stands up to anything in Hell..

OlmanFeelyus said...

Thanks for that compliment. Really appreciated, especially coming from you!

Great point about the club. Makes me think of that location as a major factor in the book. It would make a great setting for an ongoing series. I wonder if it showed up in any of her other books.