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Mystery Monday – The Devil Loves Me

The Devil Loves Me by Margaret Millar

 

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

 

 

Dr. Prye, I have arranged a little surprise for you. Knowing how interested you are in murders, I have decided to give you one on your own doorstep, as it were. I am leaving this note in a friend’s pocket. (Unsigned).

 

What good wishes to receive on one’s wedding day. Worse when psychiatrist-detective Dr. Prye’s wedding is stopped and postponed by a queasy, fainting bridesmaid, who turns out to have been poisoned. She pulls through but two ax murders and a fatal shooting ensue.

In this early Forties mystery, Dr. Paul Prye, Millar’s series hero, should not to be confused with Erle Stanley’s Gardner’s Paul Pry, a short-lived PI in the pulps, or the proverbial Paul Pry, any inquisitive meddlesome guy. Dr. Prye does not ask many questions. His manner seems rather above it all. Luckily he teams up with Millar’s other series hero, Detective-Inspector Sands. The Toronto sleuth is more used to upper class crimes such as scions forging checks or wealthy manufacturers suffering convenient lucrative fires in their factories. The opposite of the quietly charming Pry, Sands is “an odd little man … the type who encourages you to talk by his very quietness, until you talk too much.”

On the positive side, Millar is a graceful and vivid writer. For instance, of a character descending into a basement: “The cold air swept past her like ghosts clammy and chill from their graves, laying damp fingers on her cheeks. The steps sighed under her weight.” The dialogue is funny in a waspish way. Since the tragic destiny of the characters inexorably comes out of their flawed personalities, one can tell Millar studied the classics while she lived in Toronto.

However, despite the vibrant but not showy writing and amusing talk, the characters are not differentiated clearly. Prye’s fiancée and her mother don’t have much to do. The mystery side of things is slighted. Even I, always dense about clues, was able to guess the culprit. I could see many readers becoming bored with the urbane barbs traded by what sour old Kirkus Reviews called “morally questionable characters.”

This was Millar’s third novel. She had been working in the Craig Rice tradition of the comic mystery. But with this 1942 book, probably because of her education in those darn classics and the utter seriousness of WWII, she took up heavier themes than we’d expect in a lightweight genre. Millar went on to have a successful career as a writer of suspense stories and novels. She was granted the well-deserved Grand Master award for lifetime achievement by the Mystery Writers of America in 1983. As time goes by, she is becoming a neglected writer.

 

 

 

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