Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Ask For Me Tomorrow: Margaret Millar

This book was published in 1976; Margaret Millar's first novel, The Invisible Worm, was published in 1941. Her later books are not generally considered her best.  This is only the second one I have read recently, so I can't judge, but I liked this one just fine. The story was strange and different, which is what I expect from Millar. There is more than one twist toward the end and she kept me guessing. The dialogue is well done. Just enough dialogue, just enough story and description. The book kept me entertained and I am looking forward to more books by this author.


Tom Aragon is hired by Gilly Decker to find her ex-husband, B. J. Lockwood, who eight years earlier ran off to Mexico with a servant who was pregnant with his son. In the meantime, Gilly remarried but this husband had a stroke almost immediately after they married. From a letter received from B. J. requesting money, Gilly knows that he went to Baja California and got in trouble with a development scheme. Aragon makes two trips to to the small fishing town that B. J. settled in to find out what happened to him or his son.

The story is set in two places, a California town by the ocean, called Santa Felicia in the book, and a small town in Mexico, also on the ocean. Because Millar and her husband, Kenneth Millar (pseudonym of Ross Macdonald) lived in Santa Barbara, California, one can assume that Santa Felicia stands in for Santa Barbara. Because I moved to Santa Barbara only four years after this book was published, it was interesting to think that the city would have been about the same then as when I moved there. The part set in California takes place primarily in the rich woman's home and I have no familiarity with the homes of the rich. There are a lot of them here though.

Millar describes the Santa Ana winds that are common in the summer and the fall in Southern California:
The wind had come up during the night, a santa ana that brought with it sand and dust from the desert on the other side of the mountain. By midmorning the city was stalled as if by a blizzard. People huddled in doorways shielding their faces with scarfs and handkerchiefs. Cars were abandoned in parking lots and here and there news racks had overturned and broken and their contents were blowing down the street, rising and falling like battered white birds.
I don't remember any Santa Anas quite that damaging, but they are scary and uncomfortable. And now we always worry that they will cause a wildfire.

Some reviewers suggest that Millar's failure to stick with a series character may have affected the popularity of her books. This book features one of her series characters, Tom Aragon, who is also in two later books. Aragon is a junior member of a law firm and in this book he does detective work for the firm. (I understand that is true of the other books also.)

The majority of the story is centered on Tom Aragon's trips to Mexico, and that was the part I enjoyed most. Gilly requested a bilingual investigator. Aragon grew up in the "barrio on lower Estero Street" and his mother never learned to speak English, so he fits her needs. In my opinion, he is the most fleshed-out character but there are a lot of interesting characters in the book.

This book is my second submission for 1976 for the Crimes of the Century meme at Past Offences.

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Publisher:   Avon, 1978 (orig. pub. 1976)
Length:      176 pages
Format:      Paperback
Series:       Tom Aragon, #1
Setting:      Southern California, Mexico
Genre:        Mystery
Source:      Purchased at the Planned Parenthood book sale, 2014.

20 comments:

  1. i always like Millar but must admit, don't remember a lot about this one - time to dig it out again!! I suspect you are right about the lack of a series character affecting sales, though clearly it would work for most of the books she wrote in her heydays during the 50s and early 60s, which by their nature are clearly best as stand-alone stories

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    1. I read a few of her books when I was younger, Sergio, and I remember that A Stranger in My Grave was a bit too something for me. At the time, I don't think I leaned toward series that much and it really surprises me that it would have affected sales. I look forward to reading more of her books.

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  2. Sorry for the typo, I meant to write "clearly it would NOT work for most the books " ...

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  3. I have read a lot of Millar, and always love them, but can never remember much about them afterwards - even though they can be quite spell-binding at the time of reading. I'm pretty sure I've read this one, and have a copy on the shelves, so should get it out.

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    1. Moira, I suspect I will find something to like about all of her books. I have a few more to read, then will have to look for more.

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  4. Tracy, I have never read Margaret Millar though I have read a couple of books by her husband Ross Macdonald, who wrote some gripping crime novels. I have been looking for Millar's novels at the secondhand bookshops I frequent.

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    1. Prashant, I was reading one review that compared this book to Ross Macdonald's writing, maybe mainly in the plotting area. I have not read enough by either writer recently to make a comparison.

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  5. No doubt about it, Tracy; Millar could build psychological suspense, and did a great job with plot twists, too, I think. She created some fascinating characters, too. I'm glad you featured this novel (and liked it!); I like Tom Aragon...

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    1. Margot, I also like that some of her books are set in Canada and some in California (and other places also, I am sure).

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  6. What a creepy cover! You have the best luck finding old editions, Tracy. I've been reading lots of earlier Millars and like them very much.

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    1. It is a creepy cover, Rebecca, and led me to expect a different kind of plot. I was very lucky with that one, since I found it at a book sale. There are some other ones that I have sought out online.

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  7. I've not yet read her but feel I should. I think I have something by her, but not much. This is one to consider, maybe.

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    1. I have only read two of her books recently, Col, and of the two I would recommend this one most for you.

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  8. I haven't read any Millar books yet, Tracy, I'm more familiar with her husband's books which I read a while back and enjoyed very much. In fact, I'm thinking I'm due for a Ross MacDonald re-reading binge. But maybe I'll give Millar a looksee first. They're easy enough to find, thank goodness.

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    1. Her books are kind of weird and creepy, Yvette, at least the two I have read. But I like the style of writing and she keeps me interested and entertained. I have not read enough of the Ross Macdonald books myself.

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  9. I thought I left a comment but I guess I didn't. This is the first I've heard of this novel. Have you read Beast in View yet? I have A Stranger in My Grave to read along with two other novels. She's a terrific writer. Hope more readers discover her so that her work can get back in print where it belongs.

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    1. Keishon, I have not yet read Beast in View. I recently bought the Library of America set that has that book in it. I am not sure which one I will read next. I have at least three and I want to read them all soon.

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    2. Tracy, looking forward to it. Also, saw on Amazon that they are digitizing some books in her backlist and last I checked at reasonable prices end of this year and next year.

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    3. Thanks for that info, Keishon. I prefer paper copies but sometimes they are hard to find or have tiny print that is hard to read.

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    4. These days, I prefer print as well, Tracy, especially for older mysteries. I just find that digital errors ruin the experience with the OCR errors and formatting issues. Some publishers do it right and other just...don't.

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