Monday, August 20, 2007

Mermaid - Margaret Millar

First published 1982; cover shown is the 1992 Allison & Busby (UK) paperback edition. 205 pages.

Tomas Aragon, a young Hispanic lawyer, features in a number of Millar's books - most notably Ask For Me Tomorrow (1976), reviewed on this blog a number of months ago. Tom is a likable detective, and my only disappointment with this novel was that he wasn't featured enough. In my opinion he is one of the best characters Millar invented, and I would have liked to learn more about him.

Undoubtedly the main character of Mermaid is Cleo Jasper. While she is absent for much of the book, the story revolves around her. Cleo is 22 years old, the sister of a much older brother whose family she lives with. Cleo is also incredibly wealthy and beautiful - and mentally retarded. She attends Holbrook Hall, a school for "exceptional" young men and women.

When Cleo runs away from home just hours after visiting Aragon in his office (to enquire about her rights), Hilton Jasper - Cleo's brother - hires Aragon to track her down and bring her home. What Hilton hasn't told Aragon is that on the night of Cleo's disappearance he had discovered her in bed with his 21 year old son.

Aragon's initial investigations bring him to a trailer park by the beach, home to Roger, a homosexual teacher from Holbrook Hall. It seems that Roger and Cleo were planning to marry, something which comes as a complete shock to Hilton and to Rachel Holbrook, the director of Holbrook Hall. When Rachel discovers a very dead Roger in his trailer, the search for Cleo intensifies.

The final scenes - on board a hijacked boat - are among the best in the book. It includes Aragon's most memorable appearance, and creates a couple of questions which are not quite answered. Namely, just how mentally challenged is Cleo after all?

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