In the novel's very bizarre first scene, Alice Heath - posing as a blind women with guide dog - is going to see a psychiatrist. Alice, who lives with a dysfunctional family of sister and brother, father, and sister's fiance, wants to discuss all of this (especially her blinded by an accident sister) with the doctor.
In the next scene, we return to the house. Kelsey, Alice's sister, is preparing for a visit from her brother's girlfriend. The relationships in the household are strained. Everyone tiptoes around Kelsey and her feelings, trying to please her.
For the first 70 pages (of my 191 page edition), the relationships within the household and outside of the family are explored. At this point, someone in the cast of characters dies, and Inspector Sands is brought in to investigate.
Inspector Sands is fairly unusual for a detective.
He would have preferred to be without face or body, if other people would conform. Since this was impossible he did the next best thing and ignored his possession of both to such an extent that he could not have described himself accurately on a police bulletin. He knew roughly that he was middle-sized and middle-aged but appeared taller because he was thin, and older, because he was constantly tired.Regardless, he is my favorite character. He shows up in only one more mystery by Millar, and I wish she had written more novels using him as the detective.
This was the perfect re-introduction to Margaret Millar's mystery novels. I have read some of her books when I was younger but I have little memory of them. This one is close to the basic police procedural mystery, but goes beyond that, delving into the psychology of the family relationships.
Excerpts from reviews from 1943, cited in a book of collected short stories by Millar, The Couple Next Door:
Here is a true adult novel, with wit, satire, fine characterization--and a beautiful plot of crime and mystery...and
-- Elizabeth Bullock in Chicago Sun Book Week
Heady mixture of society life, underworld plots, abnormal psychology, good detecting, and better writing.See Brian Busby's review, titled Damaged, Disfunctional, and Decadent Toronto, at The Dusty Bookcase. Brian points out a real location used in the book and includes some great paperback covers.
-- The Saturday Review
Margaret Millar wrote some books set in Canada, where she was born, and some set in Southern California, where she lived most of her adult life.
Publisher: International Polygonics, 1986 (orig. pub. 1943)
Length: 191 pages
Series: Inspector Sands, #1
Setting: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Genre: Police Procedural
Source: Purchased at the Planned Parenthood book sale, 2013.