Joe Quinn

Created by Margaret Millar (1915-94)

There are many (including my pal Ed) who claim Margaret Millar was the true talent in the Millar household, but if so, the evidence doesn't lie in How Like An Angel (1962). Although it's a kickass read, and it certainly does entertain, and boasts a compelling and satisfying psycholgical depth to it, this tale of JOE QUINN, a disillusioned private eye with a gambling jones just doesn't pack the personal WHOMP! that I felt with Ross Macdonald's Lew Archer novels.

Still, it's a damn good read. There's no denying that Millar was an exceptional and accomplished writer and that the book is definitely recommended. Quinn is young and healthy, free and over twenty-one, but not getting any younger. Worse, he's running on fumes after a disatrous bout at the tables in Reno. Asked if he's a professional gambler, he replies, without much humour, "Amateur. The professionals win. I lose."

Hitchhiking home through the desert to the seaside resort town of San Felice, where a friend owes him money, he crashes for a night with members of The Tower, an isolated religious cult, where he befriends one of the disciples, an eccentric older women called Sister Blessing. She hires him to check out the status of a man who it turns out died under strange circumstances several years previous.

It isn't, Joe admits, the first time he's taken a "funny job." In his checkered career, he's taken plenty of them, the most recent being a stint as a security guard at a Reno casino. But this lone is really funny. Who said a little religion won't kill you?

Millar was, of course, married to Ross Macdonald (his real name was Ken Millar, but he changed it to avoid accusations he was riding on his wife's coattails). She did write at least a few other P.I. novels, though -- Stranger in My Grave, featuring Mexican-American gumshoe Steve Pinata and three featuring Mexican-American lawyer turned private investigator Tom Aragon, but most of her books weren't private eye novels. Still, they're all good solid bets, full of sometimes-surprising (for the time) emotional and psychological underpinnings. Her best known novel, Beast in View, won an Edgar in 1956, and in 1957, she served as chair of the Mystery Writers of America. In 1965, the Los Angeles times named her Woman of the Year. And in 1983, she was awarded the Grand Master Award for Lifetime Achievement by the Mystery Writers of America.

THE EVIDENCE

  • Newspaper editor: "You're very suspicious."
    Quinn: "By nature, training, experience and observation, yes."

UNDER OATH

  • "Margaret Millar has few peers, and no superior...her skill is shown at its finest in How Like An Angel"

-- Julian Symons

  • How Like an Angel...has always struck me as the best-plotted and best-written mystery I’ve ever read. This story of a tapped-out private eye who finds himself in a cult religious compound is as devious as Christie and as emotionally powerful as anything her husband, Ross Macdonald, ever wrote."

-- Ed Gorman, as part of The Rap Sheet's One Book Project

NOVELS

ALSO AVAILABLE IN

Second of an ambitoius series of seven volumes, collecting all of Millar's novels. Includes A Stranger in My Grave, How Like an Angel (featuring private eye Joe Quinn), Beyond This Point are Monsters and The Fiend.

Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.


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