Tuesday, October 19, 2021

The Iron Gates

The Iron Gates / Margaret Millar
NY: Syndicate, 2018, c1945
241 p.

The Iron Gates is the novel that really made Margaret Millar -- it was a hit when it was published and made her a lot of money. And it's so definitively a Millar -- completely character based, with strong, unique and messed-up characters all around. And a twisty plot with a surprise ending, too. I don't think anyone can throw unexpected conclusions at you the way that Margaret Millar can. Even when you're expecting something strange, you never seem to predict just how she'll do it. 

This one is pretty dark and disturbing. Lucille Morrow is the second wife of a successful Toronto physician. His first wife was murdered years before as she was crossing High Park on the way home from Lucille's -- who was her close friend. The murder was never solved, and is still a sore point between Lucille and her step-children, since they feel she comforted their father and became his second wife far too quickly. Note that the resentment doesn't carry over to their father. 

She's the ideal wife, despite having to deal with the dislike of her then teenage stepchildren, who are now young adults. In fact her stepdaughter is about to be married to a serviceman before he heads overseas, and the household is in a bit of a fuss when the story opens because he is about to come and meet the whole family before the quick wedding. 

But a few days later, just before the wedding, Lucille disappears. Why? Where is she, and what caused her mysterious flight? Could it have been her stepdaughter, or the new beau? Or perhaps her sister-in-law (who lives with them) has let her jealousy overcome her? Everyone is suspect, although Millar doesn't present it as a detective story as much as a psychological study of repression, secrets and resentments. 

The plot is wild, with Lucille found in a psychological hospital (those Iron Gates might protect her) and other randomly appearing characters becoming important allies, or suspects. It's unpredictable both by human and by storytelling norms. It's a ride, including train wrecks, drugs, seedy criminals, asylums, and more. And the creeping sense of doom and paranoia is chilling. 

So definitely a great read. I also appreciated the fact that the book is set in Toronto (see map included on the back of one edition below.) She sets a few of her novels right in Toronto (for example the wonderful An Air That Kills) though most are set in California where she lived most of her life despite being from Kitchener-Waterloo in Canada.

Map from back of a Dell edition

If you haven't read Millar yet, I encourage you to find any of her work and give her a try. Her psychological insight, skill at misdirection, and wacky plots are not to be missed. She's one of my favourite mystery writers, and thankfully I still have a few unread titles to get to. 


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