Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Murder of Miranda - Margaret Millar

Cover shown is the 1979 first edition hardcover from Random House (USA). Cover art by Irva Mandelbaum. 240p.

Margaret Millar, I think you're my hero! I continue to be blown away by her writing - the characterisation, the plot twists, the humour, the structure. The only negative with reading a Millar is that I have to read it in one sitting; why sleep when I can be immersed in such perfect prose?

The Murder of Miranda is the second in Millar's Tom Aragon series. With a cast of such wacky characters, the relationships between them are just as interesting as the actual plot. Much of the action takes place at the Penguin Beach Club, a socialising centre for the wealthy and eccentric.

Miranda Shaw is a 50-something recent widow, obsessed with staying young (so obsessed she regularly subjects herself to injections of goat glands). She's also obsessed with Grady Keaton, the 20-something lifeguard at the Penguin Club. Grady himself isn't adverse to an affair with Miranda, especially when he discovers how rich she is.

Aragon's first appearance in the story occurs after Miranda and Grady have both disappeared. The law firm he works for needs Miranda's signature on a number of probate documents - and someone also needs to tell her that her late husband squandered all his money and she's now as poor as a church mouse.

After tracking Miranda and Grady to a Mexican goat gland injection resort, Aragon breaks the news as gently as possible. The next morning Grady has disappeared (along with Miranda's Porsche) and a broken and injection-sore Miranda returns to Santa Felicia with Aragon. As the weeks go by it seems that Miranda is getting her life back on track. She finds a home and job with Admiral Young from the Penguin Club, who decides his two 30-something daughters (who have never really grown up) need a 'social polish'. Who better than Miranda?

When Grady returns to his lifeguard job and takes up with the club's secretary, Miranda's obsession reaches new and frightening heights. Aragon can only stand on the sidelines and watch as her behaviour and mind deteriorate daily. It takes a murder to put a stop to the insanity: a murder that is not only ingenious, it's downright perfect.

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