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Mystery Monday – Rose’s Last Summer

Rose’s Last Summer by Margaret Millar

Review by Matt B. (buffalosavage)

A long-forgotten actress is found dead in a family’s garden. The sudden death is officially ruled natural causes, but a small town police chief and a psychiatric social worker feel reservations. The alert reader, thanks to Millar’s skill in inducing misgivings, feels that something is not quite right. Anyway, our qualms focus on the odd personalities and behaviors of the family in whose garden the remains were found. As the pair ask around discreetly they meet a range of other odd people.

Millar is enjoyable to read because her writing – especially the dialogue — is beautiful. Her carefully plotted stories have lots of incidents and surprises. Millar draws characters sharply. She gives nods to social issues and problems in abnormal psychology, such as the psychopathic personality. But she’s skilled at ordinary everyday zaniness too:

. . . Mrs. Cushman, who had arrived late and taken a seat in the back row, assumed she had somehow come to the wrong funeral and she immediately rustled out again to look for the right one.

Malgradi could stand the agony no longer. He slipped out into the corridor. Here he met Mrs. Cushman who had been wandering in and out of rooms finding out a good deal about the embalming business. The experience had unnerved her and left her quite unprepared to cope with this sudden meeting.

‘Eeeee,’ Mrs. Cushman said, and made a frantic beeline for the nearest door, which happened to be that of the chapel. So she didn’t miss Rose’s funeral after all.

In the early 1940s she wrote Craig Rice-type comic mysteries. But by the early 1950s, her humor became less clowning and more witty, coming out of genuine characters and outlandish situations. So, the analogy would be Craig Rice is to The Lucy Show as Margaret Millar is to The Dick Van Dyke Show (I know – I date myself with these references).

Readers that enjoy Patricia Highsmith and Dorothy B. Hughes should try novels by Margaret Millar.

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