Margaret Millar’s mystery, Beast in View, initially puzzled me. The language used and various formalities made the setting sound like the 19th century, only there were modern features like cars. It also reminded me of English mysteries set in small towns where everyone knows each other, but this was set in the sprawling LA area.
The plot moved slow as the mystery unfolded, and seemed derivative of other more famous books and short stories. A woman in her 30s, Helen Clarvoe, is being stalked by a vindictive past friend who calls her on the phone to torment her. As time goes on, this past friend, Evelyn Merrick, escalates her venomous calls, telling painful secrets to others connected to Helen. Helen turns to a business acquaintance of her late father to help her discover what is going on and why.
About half way through I lost patience with the book. It seemed somehow childish in its psychology and not nearly as detailed as most mysteries are. I couldn’t figure out the style of the writing. Putting the book down, I googled the book’s title and the author’s name. It immediately popped up that the book was published in 1955 and that Millar was renowned for her psychological mysteries. The time period helped resolve some of my confusion, since I thought this was a more modern book and felt thrown out of time by the setting descriptions. And for the time, maybe this was an excellent example of a psychological thriller. Whatever the reason, I felt much friendlier toward the book and dove back in.
In the context of the 50’s, the book made much more sense. It still wasn’t terribly deep and the writing could be stilted, but in the latter case it may have been the stiffness of some characters’ personas as anything else. I think Millar might have been ahead of the curve in depicting certain psychological struggles, particularly for the time. All this to say that once I re-contextualized everything, I enjoyed the book a great deal more.