Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Fiend - Margaret Millar

First published 1964; cover shown is the 1987 IPL (USA) paperback edition. Cover art by Roger Roth. 245p.

Charlie Gowen is in his early thirties; a young, good looking man with learning difficulties, a secure job, a protective elder brother and a girlfriend. Charlie is also a registered sex offender - a pedophile.

Jessie Brant is nine years old; a thin, dark-haired little girl with blisters on her hands from spending too much time on the monkey bars. She just happens to be playing in a schoolyard with her friend Mary Martha when Charlie drives by. Thin, dark-haired little girls are his favourite.

Virginia Arlington lives next door to Jessie. She is childless and stuck in an unhappy marriage: Jessie has become an obsession to her. Virginia is also having an affair with Jessie's father in an attempt to become Jessie's mother.

Kate Oakley is Mary Martha's mother. Neurotic, bitter and frustrated, she hates men and is terrified her ex-husband, Sheridan, will steal Mary Martha from her. She bombards her attorney, Mac, with tales of anonymous letters and suspicious vehicles parked outside her house.

When Jessie Brant disappears from her home late one night, Charlie Gowen was sitting in his car right outside. When he reads newspaper reports of the disappearance the following morning, he doesn't know what to do or to believe. Did he "slip up" again the night before? While Charlie is fighting the demons in his head, Mac and his police chief friend, Gallantyne, are discovering that fiendish behaviour is more rife than most people think.

Millar works hard throughout this novel to show that Charlie knows what he is thinking and feeling is not right; she also gets the message across that there is no such thing as successful rehabilitation.

No comments: