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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Beast in View

Margaret Millar

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To purchase Beast in View

Title: Beast in View
Author: Margaret Millar
Genre: Novel
Written: 1955
Length: 249 pages
Availability: Beast in View - US
in: Collected Millar - US
Beast in View - UK
Beast in View - Canada
Beast in View - India
Mortellement vôtre - France
Liebe Mutter, es geht mir gut... - Deutschland
La porta stretta - Italia
La bestia se acerca - España
  • Best Novel, 1956 Edgars (Mystery Writers of America's Edgar Allan Poe Award)

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Our Assessment:

B : cleverly twisted; sharp writing

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Spectator . 7/10/1955 Penelope Houston
Sunday Times . 25/9/1955 Francis Iles
Weekly Standard . 18/4/2005 Jon Breen

  From the Reviews:
  • "The problem of just who is persecuting whom doesn't greatly exercise the intelligence: this is primarily a study in the tensions of mental breakdown, and as such is engineered with slightly repellent ingenuity." - Penelope Houston, The Spectator

  • "(A)n eerily horrifying tour de force. I picked this up to glance at while getting dressed, and an hour later was still sitting on the edge of my bed reading avidly." - Francis Iles, Sunday Times

  • "Beast in View, the Edgar Allan Poe Award winner for best novel of 1955, is superbly done but at a disadvantage with latter-day readers because the surprise solution, then fresh, has been reused so often since." - Jon Breen, Weekly Standard

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Beast in View begins with a telephone call. Someone calls Helen Clarvoe, identifying herself as an old friend, Evelyn Merrick -- a name and person Helen can't recall. She is vaguely threatening, and Helen is sufficiently unsettled to try to learn from the hotel operator who presumably put the call through where it might have come from, and then to ask Paul Blackshear, who handled her father's investments, and now handles hers, for help.
       Blackshear, fifty and easing into retirement, feels obligated to listen to what Helen has to say, but he's reluctant to get involved. He does decide, however to look into the matter.
       Thirty-year-old Helen's father recently died, leaving her a good amount of money -- while her mother, and her brother, Douglas, are struggling. Helen isn't close to her mother or brother -- not even making it to his wedding not too long ago (not that the marriage lasted: it was annulled). She lives in a second-rate Hollywood hotel, the Monica Hotel. She has no friends and doesn't get out much. "I've lost touch", she admits to Blackshear, and it applies to most everything.
       Following the trail of this Evelyn -- without quite being able to catch up with her -- Blackshear learns she seems to have aspired to do some modeling -- and to have announced grandly and repeatedly: "I want to become immortal". He begins to believe that Helen may very well be in danger: Evelyn has a way of getting right at a person's worst fears, cutting to the quick in telling them truths they may have well hidden from themselves, "getting her satisfactions from other people's pain".
       It turns out that Evelyn and Helen were, in fact, childhood friends, but that they drifted apart: they had little in common, with Evelyn: "the very opposite in temperament, full of fun and laughter". But Evelyn's history with the family didn't end back then, and just as Helen suffered a trauma with the recent loss of her father, so Evelyn's life, too, was shaken to the core not too long ago.
       As Blackshear races to get to Evelyn before more harm comes to others events snowball. There is a suicide; there is a murder. And the secrets that are revealed make for a rather different picture than what originally seemed to be the case.
       Helen is a miserable creature. In one of the darkest scenes in a dark book her father punishes the teen girl not with any actual punishment but rather simply the words:

Your punishment, Helen, is being you, and having to live with yourself.
       Blackshear thinks she can still make something of herself, trying to be supportive in untangling the horrible situation Helen finds herself in, but it's a tall order.
       Millar builds up some decent suspense as Blackshear grows more concerned about what he learns and what happens. If at first the story suggests an obvious explanation for what Helen is experiencing an unexpected twist reshuffles the cards. (In a brief Afterword Millar admits to her dismay at seeing a TV-version that used exactly the same plot she started out with (the Gore Vidal-scripted Studio One episode, Dark Possession), but her husband, Ross Macdonald suggested the added twist that makes something more of it.)
       Beast in View is a grimly dark tale -- Helen and her family are all quite miserable. Millar has Blackshear believe in Helen's redemption, and even fall for her (a widower, he's also looking for something in his own life ...), which feels a bit forced in this very narrow time-frame. A few of the coïncidences are all too neat, too, but it's an effectively gripping and unsettling tale.
       A bit compressed and fast, the writing is, however, also very sharp. Forced to serve a somewhat artificial plot here, Millar can't sustain it throughout -- but there's considerable talent on display here.
       A good, fast, grim story of psychological terror and scars.

- M.A.Orthofer, 6 April 2015

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Beast in View: Reviews: Other books by Margaret Millar under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Canadian author Margaret Millar lived 1915 to 1994. Her husband was Kenneth Millar (Ross Macdonald).

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