Monday, November 26, 2007

Banshee - Margaret Millar

First published 1983; cover shown is the 1994 Allison & Busby (UK) paperback edition. Cover design by Slatter-Anderson. 202p.

Millar's second-last novel, written in her late sixties, opens with eight year old Annamay Hyatt skipping down a garden path. The child of wealthy parents, precocious Annamay could have been an unlikeable character. But Millar excels in making Annamay an adorable, charming little person. In one short chapter I grew to like her, and when chapter two comes with its opening paragraph of:

The police came and went, came again and left again, throughout the summer. And toward the end of fall the funeral was held.'s like a punch to the stomach. Perhaps the small skeleton found in the forest isn't Annamay after all? But no, Millar reveals early on that there will be no fairytale ending.

Annamay's disappearance created a seemingly unbridgeable gap between her parents Howard and Kay, and after the funeral they move into separate bedrooms. Kay tries to forget her pain by agreeing to platonic dates with a family friend, Ben York. Howard, meanwhile, joins forces with the local priest, Michael. They are determined to discover the truth behind Annamay's death, and bring her killer to justice.

There isn't a great deal to this novel plot-wise. A young girl dies... Her father vows to avenge her death... Investigations are made... A number of suspects act suspiciously... The solution to the mystery is uncovered. But the plot doesn't really matter - it's Millar's superb characterisation which makes the story what it is. Annamay's paternal grandfather, devastated by her death, is a wonderful character, as is Dru, Annamay's cousin, who holds the key to Annamay's disappearance.

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