Wall of Eyes (1943) by Margaret Millar

Today’s book opens with Alice Heath going to visit Dr Tom Loring, a psychiatrist. Not for herself, but for her sister, Kelsey. Their state of affairs is a complex one and it takes a while for Alice to un-tangle them for us. Kelsey has been blind for two years, following a car accident, where she was at the wheel. Her brother and fiancé got off with minor injuries, but another female passenger was killed. Yet we’re not actively encouraged to pity her, as her behaviour makes for a far from easy home life. Her fiancé has little hope now of her marrying him, as she has even given her engagement ring to her maid. When their mother died, it was Kelsey who gained all the money, though it is her blindness which makes everyone reluctant to leave her, despite no one really enjoying living under the same roof. It seems as though the dominating mother lives on in Kelsey and she is keen to cast blame on those around her for her fate. Aside from her maid, Kelsey is convinced that those around her are a wall of eyes, a wall full of hate and waiting for her death. Although you’re fairly sure who is going to die in this book, Millar still makes it a very palatable surprise and Inspector Sands has the unenviable task of unravelling the case, before those he suspects completely unravel themselves…

Overall Thoughts

For me, the opening third of the book is the strongest and immediately draws the reader in. Millar cleverly makes even the opening pages ones which you need to read carefully to make sure you know what’s going on. It was interesting to see an early inclusion of a guide dog in a mystery novel and even more intriguing that Kelsey does not see him as a form of independence and is reluctant to use him. This inevitably led to me looking up when guide dogs first came into use. I never realised how long they had been trained in this way, with Dorothy Eustis and Morris Frank cofounding The Seeing Eye school in Nashville in 1929 for the purpose, though it seems the earliest guide dogs came from Germany. War veterans seem to have been an early focus for such organisations.

Historical tangents aside, Kelsey is a very powerful feat of characterisation. Although I don’t think a reader completely dislikes her, as she does have some sympathetic moments, I do think, retrospectively, that Millar adroitly manoeuvres the reader into seeing her in a certain way, which does lead to a surprising final impression of her.

Whilst this might sound like a case with a set of closed suspects, Millar quickly opens the field up and the narrative spends more time with these outside characters post murder than with the Heath household. The denouement of the case is certainly a clever and unexpected one, with Millar pulling the wool over the readers’ eyes rather successfully, but I don’t know how satisfying I found it. Maybe in some ways it seemed to come out a little too much out of nowhere. Maybe I wanted a few more tangible pointers towards this ending. But I can see how others might find it more appealing. Perhaps the shift towards outsider figures at the night club dulled my interest a bit, though I think she spliced the Heath household scenes well with those elsewhere, sometimes even giving the book a cinematic quality in the way that a new scene cut to, picks up a thread from the other. Furthermore she equally does a good job of exploring how the murder effects the different characters and Inspector Sands is an enigmatic, yet quirky cop to engage with.

Rating: 4/5

Just the Facts Ma’am (Gold Card): Author not from your country

Calendar of Crime: October (7) Book Title with a Word Starting with O

P. S. I did rather like this line in the book: ‘She waited, rigid with distaste and dread, like a very small girl awaiting a visit from a frolicsome St Bernard.’

See also: John and Tracy have also reviewed this title.

5 comments

      • Obvious Spoilers:

        I find it difficult to imagine anyone having the strength of mind to improvise a murder after a car accident. I’m not saying it would be impossible, it’s just highly improbable in my opinion. I understand this applies to many classic mysteries, but since Millar was a proponent of the psychological school of thriller writing, to me this outlandish device undermines the psychological realism of the book.

        Liked by 1 person

      • oh right, get you now. Wasn’t such which death you were referring to in your original statement. But yes I can see where you are coming from, though Christie does a sort of variation of it in Murder in Mesopotamia.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. I remember this one as having one very clever trick in it, but otherwise I don’t remember much. I think I am due some Millar re-reading – Tracy mentioned another one over at her blog, and I know I have them on my shelves and it is long enough ago that I will get some surprises. I do like Millar, she is very clever.

    Like

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