Literary Saloon
Site of Review.

Trying to meet all your book preview and review needs.

the Best
the Rest
Review Index




to e-mail us:

support the site

In Association with Amazon.com

In association with Amazon.com - UK

In association with Amazon.ca - Canada



In association with Amazon.it - Italia

the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Listening Walls

Margaret Millar

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Listening Walls

Title: The Listening Walls
Author: Margaret Millar
Genre: Novel
Written: 1959
Length: 221 pages
Availability: The Listening Walls - US
in: Collected Millar - US
The Listening Walls - UK
The Listening Walls - Canada
Les murs écoutent - France
Die lauschenden Wände - Deutschland
La scatola d'argento - Italia

- Return to top of the page -

Our Assessment:

B : trots out suspense and twists at decent pace

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Daily Telegraph . 2/10/1959 Violet Grant
Sunday Times . 13/9/1959 Julian Symons
TLS . 2/10/1959 Anthony Lejeune
Weekly Standard . 18/4/2005 Jon Breen

  From the Reviews:
  • "Miss Millar can draw character as well as she works out her plot." - Violet Grant, Daily Telegraph

  • "The Listening Walls demonstrates her art at its beautifully tricky best. (...) Sophisticated readers will discount at once the idea that Rupert has murdered Amy -- but on second thoughts, is some gigantic double bluff involved ? And when they have closed all the possible exits to their own satisfaction, they will, if they are no smarter than this case-hardened addict, be in for a stunning surprise." - Julian Symons, Sunday Times

  • "Miss Millar knows how to make her story-line twist like a snake. It is not her fault that the publishers, in big letters on the jacket, promise "as smashing a last sentence as we can recall !" That promise is not fulfilled. The final twist is surprisingly unsurprising." - Anthony Lejeune, Times Literary Supplement

  • "The novel is a psychological puzzle-box, somewhat like the currently popular trend in movies like Swimming Pool and Memento, the difference being that, in the end, Millar reveals the truth without ambiguity. (...) The Mexican and American backgrounds are effectively rendered, and the psychology of the characters, however deceptively it is presented, is ultimately sound." - 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.

- Return to top of the page -

The complete review's Review:

       The Listening Walls is an odd little thriller that's marked as much by absence as presence. Indeed, the three female characters that dominate the opening chapters -- hotel housekeeper Consuela, and two Americans abroad, Amy Kellogg and friend Wilma Wyatt -- fade quickly from the scene and are out of sight, if not mind, for much of the novel. Wilma has a good excuse: splattered on the sidewalk after a fall from the hotel room balcony, she's dead and done early on, while Consuela is let go from her position. But the question of what's up with Amy is then the central one in the novel, with Millar keeping that information under close wraps until the denouement.
       Consuela has a favorite hiding and resting spot at the Mexico City hotel she works at -- a broom closet on the fourth floor. The novel begins with her overhearing an argument from there, between the two ladies in 404, Amy and Wilma.
       The married Amy had joined her friend on this vacation -- and one can imagine she needed the support:

     Wilma had had a bad year, a divorce (her second), the death of her parents in a plane wreck, a bout of pneumonia. She had planned the holiday in Mexico to get away from it all. Instead, she had taken it all with her.
       The ladies are not having a great time -- with even local hotel grifter-cum-lothario Joe O'Donnell realizing they're a lost cause after getting the lay of the land when he chats them up in the hotel bar. Spicing things up: Wilma has purchased a lovely silver box, which Amy signs for when it is delivered -- and Amy can't help but notice that those initials engraved inside it, R.J.K., are those of her husband, Rupert .....
       Soon enough, Consuela is back for a nap in her closet -- and woken by some screaming from room 404.
       As to what happened -- well, there are eyewitnesses on the street, but everyone saw it slightly differently. Two things are clear: Wilma went over the edge -- and splat -- and so did the silver box.
       Amy was in no great shape either when Consuela found her, out cold, having apparently hit her head. Her husband is called, and he flies down immediately, heading straight to the hospital and then making arrangements to accompany her back.
       Gill Brandon, Amy's brother, grows concerned when he's heard no further news a week later. When Rupert finally contacts him, it's to let him know that Amy is ... elsewhere. She's gone away -- along with her beloved dog:
     "Went away ? Where ?"
     "I don't know where. She refused to tell me."
     "But this is preposterous, it's impossible."
       Rupert does have a handwritten letter from Amy to Gill that supports the wild claim, but Gill finds it all pretty hard to believe. Indeed, Rupert's claim(s) seem to have holes that certainly look suspicious when anyone takes a closer look -- and they do.
       Rupert's secretary, Miss Burton, seems to be someone he ... relies closely on. Amy's beloved dog is gone -- but the favorite leash was left behind ? Gill's wife, Helene, is on friendlier terms with Rupert, and keeps him in the loop as to what her husband is up to, but Gill -- who is very, very close to his sister -- isn't letting this go.
       Gill hires a private detective, Elmer Dodd, who can't keep his doings very private but still does a decent job uncovering some of the truth behind various claims. It remains a quite puzzling case: the letters from Amy, for example, look authentic -- even as the claims of where she might be increasingly don't.
       There's certainly some suspense here, as Millar teases readers as to what Rupert is hiding and what might have happened with Amy. Rupert does himself few favors in his stumbling about, but much of the appeal of the novel comes from the various characters' clumsy communication: Miss Burton and her crush on the boss, for example, or Helene trying to be intermediary. Dodd turns out to be a decent detective -- but this is quite the tangle, and it takes a bizarre little staged reconstruction of the original events to resolve everything. Sort of.
       The crime -- and yes there is a crime underlying this, and there's another bloody body before everything is said and done -- is a slightly disappointing one, and too much depends on some very good (and some very bad) intentions, so even the sharp, final resolution doesn't pack quite the punch it should. That said, getting there is good fun: Millar's writing is sharp throughout, and she blends a solid set of characters (who are real characters ...). She also keeps readers guessing nicely: it's hard not to imagine different scenarios as the story progresses, and part of the fun of the novel is in wondering just what the hell happened to Amy. Yes, the final -- or at least the penultimate -- answer is a bit of a disappointment, but the ride getting there makes the colorful The Listening Walls reasonably worthwhile.

- M.A.Orthofer, 29 November 2018

- Return to top of the page -


The Listening Walls: Reviews: Margaret Millar: Other books by Margaret Millar under review: Other books of interest under review:

- Return to top of the page -

About the Author:

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

- Return to top of the page -

© 2018-2021 the complete review

Main | the New | the Best | the Rest | Review Index | Links