The woman in the sable coat is Miss Isobel Seton, a 35 year old woman who thinks a lot about marriage but has no prospects. She is on a bus with a group of people headed for a skiing lodge and is getting so fed up that she is composing a letter of complaint (mentally) to Abercrombie & Fitch:
Because one of your irresponsible clerks did not prevent me from buying a pair of skis, I am sitting here in what these damned Canadians call a Sno-bus, which means a bus that meets a Sno-train and conveys one to a Sno-lodge. I am marooned in the wilds of Quebec in a raging Sno-storm. My nose is red. I am thirty-five, which not an age for adjustments. I am hungry.
[Keep in mind that Margarer Millar was born, raised, and educated in Canada.]Within the first chapter, the bus has become stranded and the bus driver has left the bus to find help. Soon, the travelers leave the bus to follow in the footsteps of the bus driver, who has failed to return. They come upon an isolated house; they are shot at as they walk up to the house but they seek shelter anyway. It is a large house but with only two residents, an insane woman and her female caretaker. Neither one is thrilled to have company in the house, and the group from the bus is allowed to stay only under duress.
In the one night that the group spends in the house, there are three deaths and numerous strange occurrences.
So what did I like about the book?
I liked the characters as they developed throughout the book. At first I found almost all of them either irritating or boring and silly. The first chapter reveals more about Isobel Seton than any other character and we mostly see the others through her eyes. As the story continues, each one reveals more about themselves and becomes a more interesting person, for good or bad. And this is the way it would happen in real life if you were on a bus with a group of strangers. At first you would only see the surface and then various facets would be revealed.
The "stranded in a snowed-in mansion" story is not one that I am overly familiar with, so this did not feel tired to me. I liked the comic aspects and the humor broke up the tension of being stuck in an enclosed space with some genuinely nutty people and not knowing who to trust. The women in this story were much braver than I; I would hide under the bedclothes until help arrived.
What did I dislike?
Nothing. I enjoyed reading the book; the story and the characters engaged me. Isobel is the most well defined character, but we learn more and more about the others in the group. The mystery plot is not very strong, but so far that has been my experience with the books I have read by Millar, and I don't find fault with that.
This is not considered one of Millar's better novels. However, of the ones I have read, I enjoyed it the most. If the reader is looking for a good puzzle mystery, this is not the best book to choose, although there are clues, all of which I missed. A warning: An animal is killed in this book.
This book is my submission for 1944 for the Crimes of the Century meme at Past Offences.
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. I have read and reviewed Wall of Eyes (1943), also set in Canada, and Ask For Me Tomorrow (1976), set in California and Mexico.
See other reviews here:
Publisher: International Polygonics, 1987 (orig. pub. 1944)
Length: 158 pages
Setting: Québec countryside, Canada
Source: Purchased at the Planned Parenthood book sale, 2014.