The Iron Gates By Margaret Millar
Dell 209, Copyright 1945
There was a blur in front of her eyes and beyond the blur words dangled and danced, and beyond the thickness that clothed her ears voices spoke, out of turn, out of time.
Set in Toronto during WWII, Lucille Morrow seems to have the perfect life. Married for 16 years to the successful Doctor Andrew Morrow, the affluent household consists of the doctor's two grown children and his elder sister. But things are not as they seem. A visitor stops one day and leaves a small package for Lucille, which sends her (and the story) into a chilling psychological tailspin.
Canadian born Margaret Millar was an author that got into your head. A grand master of mystery novels, her characters are sometimes odd, and built from complex emotional interwoven parts. This is definitely the case in "The Iron Gates."
After receiving her surprise package, Lucille flees the house in terror and goes into hiding. She is found in a hotel and mentally unresponsive. Committed to a mental institution, she feels someone is out to murder her and we wonder as readers if she is mentally ill or "faking it" to stay protected in the institution. The case interests Inspector Sands of the Toronto Homicide Department, who was involved in the investigation of the murder of Andrew's first wife 16 years earlier. The case was never solved. More deaths occur, including Lucille's roommate at the institution. Lucille descends deeper into insanity and another tragic event befalls her. Suspecting a member of the family as the root cause of all the calamitous events, composed Inspector Sands attempts to bring an end to the mystery and see that justice is served.
A monumental novel. Millar's story is full of hidden clues that when put together could solve the mystery. But we learn, stories can curve from where we think they are going and clues are sometimes not clues. And Lucille may not be all she seems. A strong psychological thriller, that takes you into a mind of a woman falling and us trying to find what would drive her into a state like this. As for Inspector Sands, a truly original compelling sleuth. Millar describes him as a tired-looking middle-aged man, with clothes that blended with the rest of him, "they were gray and rather battered and limp." When people are introduced to him they think the police "take just anybody on the force nowadays, with so many able-bodied men drafted." But of course that is not the case, he's highly respected, will drink a beer at the pub, and calmly will irritate people enough to get the information he needs. (Before there was Columbo, there was Inspector Sands.)
"Why do you want to hang me, anyway? Revenge? Punishment? To teach me a lesson or teach other people a lesson?"
"It's my job," Sands said wryly.
"No, not quite."
"I think you might do it again."
If you never read a Margaret Millar novel, this early one of hers is a great start. She is not only one of my favorite female mystery authors, she is one of my favorite authors. Period....
It's a shame Inspector Sands was in only two novels and one short story by Margaret Millar.
A marvelous detective. The stories he appeared in:
The Wall of Eyes (1943)
The Iron Gates (1945)
The Couple Next Door (1954) Short Story in The Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine
Wednesday, October 1, 2008
The Iron Gates By Margaret Millar