Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Margaret Millar's Tom Aragon novels

As I mentioned earlier, I was writing an article on Margaret Millar for a forth-coming book 100 American Crime Writers (or something along those lines, I'm forgetting the exact title - or then it is just that!). I was going to do a Forgotten Friday post last Friday on two of Millar's later novels, but I never got around to doing it, so I'll post it now.

Or actually I'm just copy-pasting what I wrote on the Tom Aragon books in my article.
Tom Aragon was one of the few series characters Millar wrote about, and actually the only in her late career. There were couple short-lived series characters in her early books, but her mature phase (from around 1950 to the mid-sixties) hasn't any.

Millar's late phase is also worthy of note, even though her books from the seventies and eighties don't rise to the level of her classics. A good example is Ask For Me Tomorrow (1976) that is also one of her most traditional crime novels. The hero of the book is a young lawyer called Tom Aragon, who's called for help to search for a missing first husband. The book takes the reader on tour to Mexico, especially the poor wasteland of Baja California. Millar draws memorable characters of people living in destitude and their struggle to survive which often turns into quest for the impossible. Millar is very good at depicting Americans trying to find the American Dream, to rise from rags to riches, and their dishonesty towards themselves.

Ask For Me Tomorrow is not one of Millar's best, and neither is The Murder of Miranda (1979), which also stars Tom Aragon. Both books are a bit uneasy mixtures of social satire and the private eye genre. Millar is not very good writing humorous scenes (which is paradoxical, since her earlier books were full of satire), and the books change the point of view rather clumsily. The best parts are those with Aragon, but in these scenes Millar shows the influence of her husband - they could've well been written by Ross Macdonald (which of course is a compliment). The last of the three Tom Aragon novels, Mermaid (1982), is about Aragon searching for a mildly retarted runaway girl.

Do you think I'm right saying that Kenneth Millar had an influence on his wife, Margaret? I think I sensed the Ross Macdonald vibe in Ask For Me Tomorrow even when I read it in the mid-eighties, when I was 15 or 16. There are similar themes and plotlines, with the private eye figure (sure, Aragon is not a private eye, but still close and he acts like one) travelling from place to place and unravelling the mysteries of the past. Of course Ross Macdonald had died by the time Ask For Me Tomorrow was published, but one could possibly imagine that it was based on an outline Macdonald had made.

And, oh, the editor of the book
100 American Crime Writers, Steven Powell, maintains a crime-related blog here at the Venetian Vase. Take a look.

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