Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Iron Gates by Margaret Millar

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.

"Purely impersonal?"
"No, not quite."
"Why, then?"
"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


Chris said...

That cover is fantastic, and the plot sounds equally intriguing. That excerpt from the text was interesting, too.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Sitting on my TBR pile. It moves up.

Anonymous said...

Wow. Did this novel come out of nowhere. I've never heard of Millar but now, I will put her on that list I carry in my wallet. This book sounds fantastic. Thanks for the review and thanks for pricking my curiosity as to the ending and the other tragic event that befell Lucille. I'm jonesing for the answer.

OlmanFeelyus said...

Yeah, this is going on my wallet card as well. Canadian content! Is this one of those pocket books with the map or diagram on the back cover?

Frank Loose said...

To add a note: Margaret Millar was the wife of Kenneth Millar, aka Ross MacDonald, creator of the best detective and detective series ever written --- that being Lew Archer.
--- Frank

Anonymous said...

i am so excited that someone else has read "the iron gates"! i read it back in the 1960's and it has stayed with me all these years. i couldn't think of the name until tonight. when i read it, it was part of a collection of stories and was listed as a novella. it was an "alfred hitchcock" collection.

corona8 said...

I have been searching for a short story I'd read just once in 1969 that was featured in Alfred Hitchcock's "Stories For Late At Night Part II" and it ended with a line about a person from the police department looking at the "glory of the day vanishing in giant scudding clouds...."
Or words like that. I don't know if this was the short story.

Anonymous said...

I've just read The Iron Gates for the first time and was so blown away I googled!
It was in "Stories for Late at Night" and ends with the wonderful Sands standing on the veranda...."Time passed over his head in a thin grey rack of scudding clouds, as if the sky had fled away and its last remaining rags were blowing over the edge of the world."

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