Friday, April 11, 2008

Taste of Fears by Margaret Millar

Details: First published 1950; cover shown is the 1988 Penguin Books (UK) paperback reprint. Cover photo by David Fairman. 218p.

Lucille Morrow is 40-something, the second wife of a prosperous doctor. Her husband's unmarried sister still lives with them, as does his two adult children, who make no attempt to hide their resentment and dislike of their stepmother. Lucille believes she is happy, and loved. But she has been having nightmares, and when a paper-wrapped parcel arrives at the house one day, she is heard to scream - before stealing her maid's coat and disappearing.

When she is found days later in a nearby hotel, she is dazed, hallucinating and terribly afraid. She is admitted to a home for the mentally infirm, and Mr Sands, police detective, begins his investigations. He has been interested in the Morrow family for more than 15 years - since Mildred, Dr Morrow's first wife, was found in the snow, her head beaten in by an axe.

The paper-wrapped parcel is located, and found to contain a human finger. The small-time criminal who delivered the finger is found murdered. And small incidents begin occurring at the hospital where Lucille is holed up - incidents which Sands realises are aimed at breaking Lucille's fragile mind into an irreparable mess.

This is not one of Millar's best works: the number of plot cliches used stretched believability to the limits. But there were some good characters, especially Sands, and a denouement I certainly didn't see coming.

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